Tag Archives: Clementa Pinckney

Obama’s Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney 1: The Circle of Grace

16 Jul

Make no mistake, it was a remarkable performance. Nominally a eulogy, very much a eulogy. But also a sermon on the past and future of race relations in America.

Though Rev. Pinckney’s funeral was held on June 26, and I heard of Obama’s eulogy shortly thereafter, and heard about it again, and again, I didn’t bother to watch it until a couple of days ago when I was reflecting on some remarks the economist Glenn Loury and linguist John McWhorter made about the ‘authenticity’ of Obama’s performance. After all, Obama wasn’t raised in the church. And yet he chose to don the vestments of a black preacher, the rhetorical and oratorical style, to deliver his eulogy.

I’ll get around to Loury and McWhorter in a later post. In this one I want to look at the eulogy itself, which pretty much took the form of a sermon addressed to the nation. In my preliminary analysis that sermon has five basic parts as follows:

1. Prologue: Address to his audience, quoting of a passage from the Bible.

2. Phase 1: Moves from the Clementa Pinckney’s life to the significance of the black church in history.

3. Phase 2: The murder itself and presence of God’s grace.

4. Phase 3: Looks to the nation, the role racism has played, and the need to move beyond it.

5. Closing: Amazing Grace.

In the course of this analysis I will be referring to specific paragraphs by number. I have appended the entire text to this post and have numbered the paragraphs. Furthermore, I have uploaded an analytical table I am using as I think about the text. Each paragraph appears in the table along with comments here and there. You may view or download this document here: https://www.academia.edu/14123971/President_Obama_s_Eulogy_for_Clemente_Pinckney_an_Analytic_Table

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I want to begin by quoting from an article Michiko Kakutani published on July 4, Obama’s Eulogy, Which Found Its Place in History:

A draft of the Charleston eulogy was given to the president around 5 p.m. on June 25 and, according to Mr. Keenan, Mr. Obama spent some five hours revising it that evening, not merely jotting notes in the margins, but whipping out the yellow legal pads he likes to write on — only the second time he’s done so for a speech in the last two years. He would rewrite large swaths of the text.

Mr. Obama expanded on a short riff in the draft about the idea of grace, and made it the central theme of the eulogy: the grace family members of the shooting victims embodied in the forgiveness they expressed toward the killer; the grace the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina manifested in coming together in the wake of the massacre; the grace God bestowed in transforming a tragedy into an occasion for renewal, sorrow into hope.

First, I would love to be able to compare Keenan’s draft with the eulogy that Obama delivered. Did that draft open with “Giving all praise and honor to God”? Did it quote Scripture at the beginning (Hebrews 11:13), as is typical of sermons? That is to say, did Keenan know he was drafting a sermon, or did that happen as Obama devoted five hours and who knows how many pieces of 8.5 by 14 lined yellow paper to the rewrite? Continue reading

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