RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Reverend Jeremiah Wright has kept quiet even since inflammatory comments he'd made were broadcast last month. The former pastor of Barack Obama's church breaks his silence tonight in an interview with Bill Moyers of PBS.
Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT (Former Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ): I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech. I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust, I felt it was untrue. I felt that those who were doing that were doing it for some very devious reasons.
MONTAGNE: That's Reverend Wright speaking to Bill Moyers. And this Sunday, he will be speaking again in Detroit. He'll deliver a keynote address to the NAACP's biggest branch. To talk about Reverend Wright's appearance in the midst of controversy, we reached political science Professor Frederick Harris. He's director of Columbia University's Center on African-American Politics and Society. Good morning.
Professor FREDERICK HARRIS (Political Science; Director, Center of African-American Politics and Society, Columbia University): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Let's begin with what it says when one of the NAACP's most important chapters is giving Reverend Wright such prominence at an event whose past speakers have included Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama - an event that, it's one of their biggest moneymakers.
Prof. HARRIS: I think it says a great deal about the NAACP. And part of this, I think, is Reverend Wright trying to defend his name. And the NAACP, which in many ways is a defensive of black leaders, of black communities, and also recognizing the need to raise issues about racism in this country, it seems to me it is special to have Reverend Wright there.
MONTAGNE: Where does Reverend Wright fit in the larger picture of black leadership?
Prof. HARRIS: In many ways, I would say he's within the mainstream of black leadership. He's a very popular minister. He's ranked as one of the most prominent ministers in black America by Ebony magazine. But there's a shift in black leadership that's occurring, a generational shift. The younger leaders are beginning to deemphasize race and the role of racism in American society, versus the old guard of black leadership see this as very much the center of their organizing principle.
MONTAGNE: And emphasizing what other new themes?
Prof. HARRIS: Well, these things are over universal policies. There's less-targeted focus on traditional issues like affirmative action, for instance. And also, there's the idea of just getting things done rather than relying on the old modes of protest as a way to address grievances.
MONTAGNE: What about the NAACP itself? It actually seems less prominent in the Barack Obama campaign than it was in Bill Clinton's campaign back in 1992.
Prof. HARRIS: Yes. I think this is a new day in black politics. What we've also been seeing in the last decade is a decimation of black civil society, that traditional black civil rights organizations are not as strong as they had been. So, with this new paradigm, it seems as though Barack Obama doesn't need the support of the NAACP since Barack Obama has been doing very well without their at least explicit support.
MONTAGNE: How do you think these new appearances by Reverend Jeremiah Wright will affect Obama's campaign going into these two crucial primaries, North Carolina and Indiana?
Prof. HARRIS: Well, it can't help. You know, in North Carolina, I think Barack Obama will do well. But in those key white working-class constituencies in states like Indiana, Kentucky, as well as West Virginia, it cannot help him expand his space.
MONTAGNE: Frederick Harris is a political science professor and director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia. Thanks very much for talking with us.
Prof. HARRIS: Thanks for having me.
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