First posted: 3:45 p.m.
Latest update: 11:59 p.m.
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, the subject of much recent controversy at Northwestern and across the nation, will speak on campus Nov. 7, For Members Only Coordinator Zachary Parker said Tuesday.
The Chicago pastor, whose sound bites swirled around the national media airwaves for months as Sen. Barack Obama’s ties to him were questioned, was slated to receive an honorary degree from Northwestern last year until the university rescinded the offer.
He will deliver the keynote speech at FMO’s State of the Black Union, which puts forth the slogan “Redeeming and Reclaiming our Community.”
“We are making the statement that the black community at Northwestern still supports and defends Jeremiah Wright regardless of the university’s actions towards him,” Parker said.
Northwestern’s Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage said that the university would not interfere with FMO’s choice of speaker.
“NU organizations are allowed to invite anyone they want, and the university supports this opportunity that they are providing,” Cubbage said.
“I don’t think anybody perceived the event as going against the university,” he added.
Last spring, the university and FMO butted heads when the university rescinded its honorary degree offer to the pastor.
“In light of the controversy around Dr. Wright and to ensure that the celebratory character of Commencement not be affected, the University has withdrawn its invitation to Dr. Wright,” the university said in a May 1 statement.
The move angered leaders of black student and alumni organizations at the time.
“I can certainly say that the sentiment among the Black student body is one of contempt, disdain and disappointment for the university’s decision to retract Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Wright’s honorary degree,” FMO’s Parker wrote in an open letter to President Bienen.
In an e-mail reply, Bienen wrote, “It is not Dr. Wright’s views per se or the controversial nature of them that led us to rescind his invitation for an honorary degree. Rather, we want Commencement to be a focus on graduating students and their parents and families and we do not want Commencement overwhelmed by controversy.”
The media focus on Wright began in March, when ABC News aired a sermon of Wright’s in which he said, “God Damn America.” Obama later spoke out against Wright’s remarks and delivered a nearly 40 minute speech addressing him and race relations in America.
But Wright’s name came back to center stage when he appeared at the National Press Club at the end of April, calling attacks against his patriotism “unfair accusations taken from sound bites.” The next day, Obama said he was “outraged” by Wright’s comments at the National Press Club; a month later, Obama officially resigned from Wright’s Trinity United Church.
Amid the media onslaught and YouTube infamy for Wright’s sermon, Parker said Wright told him that Northwestern’s student activism and support helped sustain him through the chaos. “Humbled and honored,” Wright responded to FMO’s invitation.
FMO asked Reverend Wright to speak to the theme of the evening — “Redeeming and Reclaiming our Community” — and Parker says it’s up to Wright whether to mention the election, which takes place three days before the event.
Parker sees the event as a teachable moment and a way to allow students, despite personal opinions, to listen to Wright’s views with an open mind.
McCormick junior Aditi Bhatt and Weinberg junior Robert Gardner agreed with FMO’s decision but felt that Wright’s speech in November will be a better time than last graduation to hear his voice on campus. “I think it’s an appropriate choice right so that we can understand his opinions after the controversy,” Bhatt said.
“I think FMO’s position is that the university slighted Jeremiah Wright and this is a conciliatory measure,” Gardner said. “The rescinding was fair at that point though because the university didn’t need to get involved in the national discussion.”
Parker thinks the same controversy that surrounded Wright in May will follow him here in November. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were picketers outside. I’m not objecting to them. Just as we have strong feelings for him, there will students that have strong feelings against him.”
Robert Gardner predicted controversy as well, but Communications senior Andrea Woods, who described her initial reaction as “surprised,” doesn’t think many students will even show up. “I don’t see the purpose in bringing him here. Is it just a gimmick? I don’t understand,” Woods said.
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