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Blacks wrestle with Obama-Wright rift

Many understand, but some may doubt Obama's 'blackness.'

By Ariel SabarStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 1, 2008

'Outraged': Barack Obama on Tuesday renounced some views of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., his church's pastor.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Washington

In disowning his former pastor Tuesday, a month after saying he could never do so, Sen. Barack Obama walked a very fine line: He had to renounce a prominent black preacher who had become a political problem without alienating African-American voters, a bedrock of his support, for whom churches are often a center of community life.

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Senator Obama's break with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. – who officiated at his wedding and baptized his two daughters – could turn off some poorer and older, civil rights-era blacks who may already wonder about Obama's ability to identify with their lives, say experts in black politics and some black voters.

But younger and more affluent blacks say that whether or not they agree with Mr. Wright, they see the rupture as a political necessity for a man seeking to become the first African-American president.

"I felt like what he did today, he had to do," Timothy Perry, a project manager at Reliant Energy in Houston who is an Obama supporter, said Tuesday in a phone interview. "You have a limb that's rotting and you've got to cut it off."

But Michael Durrah, a third-shift security guard at a Washington hotel, says Obama has more explaining to do.

"Your pastor is your No. 1 man in the neighborhood," says Mr. Durrah, a Democrat who says neither Obama nor Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had inspired him enough to vote in the District of Columbia primary.

"But Obama stepped backwards on" Wright, Durrah said early Wednesday on his walk home from work. "I'm wondering why he's cutting ties with the man."

In remarks in North Carolina Tuesday, Obama offered an unsparing repudiation of Wright, a fiery, erudite preacher who is retiring this year from the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.

"What Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything I've done during my life," Obama said at the news conference in Winston-Salem, N.C. Obama was responding to Wright's defiant appearance at the National Press Club here Monday. The Chicago pastor defended his plea that "God damn America," his claim that the government is capable of creating HIV to kill people of color, and other comments that critics have called unpatriotic and racially incendiary.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago," said Obama. "That's enough," he added, calling Wright's remarks a "bunch of rants."

"Obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequences of this."

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