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Guest Blogger – Professor Birdsong on Barack Obama and His Pastor

Professor Leonard Birdsong


Birdsong is not an oracle. Yet, Birdsong is always asked difficult questions. This week people have been asking Birdsong: “Are Barack Obama’s chances to become President of the U.S. doomed because of his association with his allegedly fiery Pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.” Snippets of Wright’s sermons where he has condemned America for its racism and militarism have floated around the internet for several months. This past week those snippets have been the fodder of cable TV news and have raised the specter that Obama is not a loyal American and perhaps a danger to the U.S. if he were to become President.

More after the jump:

In order to give this question a good answer Birdsong must summon up a little history. The Obama/ Rev. Wright episode reminds Birdsong of the memories from the days of the old southern plantations in America. Often the white slave owners wanted their black slaves to embrace the Christian religion in a way of keeping them docile and not rebellious against the slave system. The slave owner saw their African charges as heathens needing Christianity, despite the fact that many of those brought over from Africa had previously practiced Islam or were worshipping Animists before being taken on the middle passage.

On the plantations slaves were allowed to hold church service on Sundays in the slave quarters. They could preach about God and Jesus and the great reward awaiting them in heaven. What the slave owners did not condone at such services was the idea that slavery was wrong and that slaves should escape their bondage, or even overthrow the master. To insure this would not happen, the slave owners often used spies – slaves who sought to curry favor with their masters– to tell the slave master what was being said in worship services and who was saying it. When slave preachers or other such religious instigators such as Nat Turner or Denmark Vessey used their position to oppose the slavery system they were either whipped, sold to another plantation, or killed.

The slave owner needed the slaves but could not trust them. Instinctively many slave owners knew that given the chance, the slaves, as a result of their bondage, might kill the slave owners. Thus Christian worship was allowed on the plantation in the terms that the slave owner deemed safe. Only the words and ideas condoned by the slave owners were allowed in the slave church. Of course the African slaves often devised code language and spiritual songs to trick the slave owners. The plantation slave church was church was often a place where slave preachers sought to instill the notion that the slaves might someday obtain redemption here on earth instead of waiting until they reached heaven.

The slave owner believed such notions were unwise, unsafe and antithetical to the economic system that kept the slaves in bondage. They became afraid of such notions and such preaching. It was antithetical to their notion of the world. Slaves were meant to be in bondage – the notion of freedom for the slave to the slave owners was abhorrent because they believed if freed the slave might retaliate and kill the slave owner!

And so Birdsong comes to today. Has much changed in America? Yes, it has. The slaves were given their freedom long ago. However, there may well be that atavistic fear in many whites that what is being said in the black church of today is as dangerous as that which might have been said in the old plantation church. The fear is that the slaves (blacks ) will find their redemption on earth and overthrow their white masters…and perhaps harm or kill them! The thought might be that Obama will act on the fiery rhetoric of his pastor Wright because of their association.

Irrational? Of course. But it is this type of atavistic fear in some white people that might well doom Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. Let us hope that most people will see this fear mongering for want it is. As for Rev Wright…if he were on the plantation his words that sought to give comfort and hope to blacks that they might find redemption would have led to his being whipped, sold to another plantation, or killed.

Isn’t it good that Rev. Wright has retired.

Professor Birdsong teaches Criminal Law, White Collar Crime, Evidence, Federal Jurisdiction, and Immigration Law at Barry University School of Law. He received his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. He has served as a diplomat with the State Department with postings in Nigeria, Germany, and the Bahamas. Professor Birdsong also worked as a federal prosecutor, first as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and later as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands. After leaving government service, Professor Birdsong was in private practice in Washington, D.C., where he specialized in trial work ranging from criminal defense work to political asylum matters. While in private practice, Professor Birdsong was also involved with broadcast work. He has done on-air TV legal analysis work for Fox News, CNN, Court TV, BET TV News, and for WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. During this same period, he also produced and hosted several radio talk programs in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas. Currently, Professor Birdsong is occasionally invited to appear as a legal commentator on Fox News and MSNBC.

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