Obama's former pastor resigns from state commission

Bernard Schoenburg

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor has resigned from a state commission designed in part to educate people about the history of slavery in America.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. of Chicago sent a letter July 13 to the governor’s office in which he resigned from the 15-member Amistad Commission, which was created in 2005 and is designed to promote education about the African slave trade, slavery in America and the contributions of African-Americans to the United States.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Wright to the commission on Jan. 19, 2007. His term was to expire in January 2010.

The letter was filed with the Index Department of the secretary of state’s office on Friday.

“I write you to let you know that as a retired pastor my time commitments and my access to resources are not what they were when I was the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Wright said in the letter, which was on church stationery.

“I also write you to let you know that my travel schedule as a retired Pastor does not permit me to continue to serve on the Amistad Commission. I have missed the last four meetings!”

The commission was named in honor of a group of enslaved Africans, transported in 1839 on a ship named the Amistad, who overthrew their captors and “created an international incident that was eventually argued before the Supreme Court and that shed a growing light on the evils of the slave trade. …”

Obama, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, distanced himself from Wright after comments from the pastor’s sermons over a number of years surfaced during this year’s primary campaign.

In one sermon, Wright said that the attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001, represented the “chickens … coming home to roost” because the United States “supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans” and dropped atomic bombs on Japan in World War II.

After Wright expanded on his comments during an appearance at the National Press Club in April, Obama called Wright’s statements “divisive and destructive.”

“I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Obama said on April 29.

In his letter to the governor’s boards and commissions office, Wright said he believes it is a “much-needed task” to make sure that the story of slavery and the story of the history, the legacy and the culture of Africans in the American Diaspora” become part of the curriculum in schools at every level in Illinois.

“As I tender my resignation because of my travel schedule and my time commitments, I also offer my prayers and my support to you as you continue the tremendous job of filling in the gaps in the American story,” Wright wrote.

Members of the commission are paid expenses only.

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 orbernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.