President Obama on Friday delivered an impassioned call for America to confront gun violence and racism during his eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine victims of a massacre at an African-American church.
In a personal address that touched on a number of social policies, Obama concluded with the cadence of a preacher — and surprised the 5,500 mourners at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C., by breaking into song, leading the congregation in a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
After Obama finished, clergymen in the arena called him “Reverend Obama.”
The president memorialized each of the nine victims of the shooting but also called the incident a wake-up call for the nation to address not only gun violence, but racial inequality and a broken criminal justice system.
He called Pinckney, a personal friend and supporter of Obama’s, a “good man” who “lived by faith” and believed that actions, and not just words, were needed to better his community.
“It would be a betrayal to everything Rev. Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again,” Obama told the crowd of mourners.
“To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again,” he added.
The president also waded into the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, calling it a symbol of “systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”
“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens,” Obama said. “By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.”