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Obama's controversial ex-pastor to discuss racism at August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 12:05 a.m.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, 71, pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, will speak on Thursday, April 25, 2013, at the August Wilson Center on the plight of American blacks.

President Obama's former pastor hasn't softened his civil rights message in the five years since he became a lightning rod during the 2008 election.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, 71, pastor emeritus of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ who famously said in a 2003 sermon “god damn America,” will speak Thursday at the August Wilson Center on the plight of American blacks. His appearance comes on the heels of the formation of the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention aimed at expanding the political influence of blacks.

Wright's appearance kicks off the inaugural Bayard Rustin Lecture Series, named after the late civil rights activist and Pennsylvania native who organized 1963's March on Washington. Wright did not return phone messages left at his office.

“Dr. Wright is one of the most incredible people we have right now who talks about the struggles, celebrations and plight of African-Americans in this country over the past three decades,” said Deryck Tines, 50, of Uptown, a gospel singer and reverend behind the lecture series.

During a speech last month in North Carolina, Wright spoke of the persistence of racism in “so-called post-racial America.”

“Ask Trayvon Martin's parents if racism is a thing of the past,” the Winston-Salem Journal quoted Wright as saying. The 2012 shooting death of the black teen in Florida set off a race debate and protests across the country.

In 2008, Wright's words caused Obama to denounce the man who officiated at his wedding. Obama later quit Wright's predominantly black church that he attended for 20 years on Chicago's South Side.

In a March 2008 interview with the Tribune-Review, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized Obama's association with Wright.

“He would not have been my pastor,” said Clinton, who later became Obama's secretary of State. “You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.”

In one widely publicized excerpt from a 2003 sermon titled “Confusing God with Government,” Wright questioned whether singing “God Bless America” was appropriate in light of the country's history with Native Americans, Japanese Americans and blacks.

“God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human,” Wright said at one point.

Jeffrey Weiss, a Dallas-based columnist for RealClearReligion.org, said Wright gave the controversial sermon repeatedly on the church speaking circuit before it hit the mainstream media in 2008. His point that America should repent for its sins or be judged by God was one made by many ministers.

That it was a presidential election year made it matter.

“Of course it was politics,” Weiss said. “If it wasn't Barack Obama's church, no one would have cared.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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