March 21st, 2008
10:09 AM ET

The full story behind Rev. Jeremiah Wright's 9/11 sermon

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Roland Martin has listened to several of the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Portions of the sermons have been excerpted in recent stories.

As this whole sordid episode regarding the sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has played out over the last week, I wanted to understand what he ACTUALLY said in this speech. I've been saying all week on CNN that context is important, and I just wanted to know what the heck is going on.

I have now actually listened to the sermon Rev. Wright gave after September 11 titled, "The Day of Jerusalem's Fall." It was delivered on Sept. 16, 2001.


One of the most controversial statements in this sermon was when he mentioned "chickens coming home to roost." He was actually quoting Edward Peck, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan's terrorism task force, who was speaking on FOX News. That's what he told the congregation.

He was quoting Peck as saying that America's foreign policy has put the nation in peril:

"I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday did anybody else see or hear him? He was on FOX News, this is a white man, and he was upsetting the FOX News commentators to no end, he pointed out, a white man, an ambassador, he pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he was silenced by Elijah Mohammad was in fact true, he said Americas chickens, are coming home to roost.”

"We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism.

"We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.

"We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel.

"We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenage and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.

"We bombed Qaddafi's home, and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children's head against the rock.

"We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they'd never get back home.

"We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.

"Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.

"Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y'all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don't have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that."

He went on to describe seeing the photos of the aftermath of 9/11 because he was in Newark, N.J., when the planes struck. After turning on the TV and seeing the second plane slam into one of the twin towers, he spoke passionately about what if you never got a chance to say hello to your family again.

"What is the state of your family?" he asked.

And then he told his congregation that he loved them and asked the church to tell each other they loved themselves.

His sermon thesis:

1. This is a time for self-examination of ourselves and our families.

2. This is a time for social transformation (then he went on to say they won't put me on PBS or national cable for what I'm about to say. Talk about prophetic!)

"We have got to change the way we have been doing things as a society," he said.

Wright then said we can't stop messing over people and thinking they can't touch us. He said we may need to declare war on racism, injustice, and greed, instead of war on other countries.

"Maybe we need to declare war on AIDS. In five minutes the Congress found $40 billion to rebuild New York and the families that died in sudden death, do you think we can find the money to make medicine available for people who are dying a slow death? Maybe we need to declare war on the nation's healthcare system that leaves the nation's poor with no health coverage? Maybe we need to declare war on the mishandled educational system and provide quality education for everybody, every citizen, based on their ability to learn, not their ability to pay. This is a time for social transformation."

3. This is time to tell God thank you for all that he has provided and that he gave him and others another chance to do His will.

By the way, nowhere in this sermon did he said "God damn America." I'm not sure which sermon that came from.

This doesn't explain anything away, nor does it absolve Wright of using the N-word, but what it does do is add an accurate perspective to this conversation.

The point that I have always made as a journalist is that our job is to seek the truth, and not the partial truth.

I am also listening to the other sermons delivered by Rev. Wright that have been the subject of controversy.

And let me be clear: Where I believe he was wrong and not justified in what he said based upon the facts, I will say so. But where the facts support his argument, that will also be said.

So stay tuned.


– Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor

Editor's note: Read other blogs from Roland Martin and the team of 360 contributors at CNN.com/360

Filed under: Barack Obama • Roland S. Martin
soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. Annette F

    Roland, I knew you were the man.
    Great reporting also 'Fair & Balanced'.

    God Bless

    March 21, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  2. Nadeem

    Roland, thank you for this. Can you get that stone faced Anderson Cooper to stick it to FOX news over this.

    CNN just followed the lead of FOX news without indipedent varification.

    I think CNN should go after FOX for these lies.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  3. Bob

    Wright was right. He just used some words white America isn't found of. As a mainly white American I have to admit: I am getting tired of white America! Just knee jerk reactions and no attempt understand those they view as different from them. Thanks Roland for trying. But it's like trying to move a mountain.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  4. dsw

    I hope the whole story is now blasted on every news channel like the sound bites were!

    March 21, 2008 at 11:02 am |
  5. Andy

    perfectly written. Honestly, I do not understand what is all the fuss about rev Wright. Tell me where exactly was he wrong when he said that our foreign policy causes or promotes terrorism? You do not have to be especially smart to conclude that if you stop and think and look at our 150 years of foreign policy that only created us more enemies. I am white, and I totally agree with rev Wright.
    People who do not understand what he was talking about and found it offensive and anti-american, are living in lala land trying not to notice the truth.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:02 am |
  6. Paul

    Thanks CNN for bending over backwards to give a full explanation about something that Obama felt uncomfortable with. Also thank you for giving him an hour with Anderson Cooper so he could faun all over Obama – at one point blushing. Not to mention the hour you gave to Obama on Larry King to talk, talk, talk....You are so in bed with Obama it sickens me .....I will be watching other networks to hear about the other candidates...there are other candidates by the way.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:02 am |
  7. Howard Wolf

    Do you remeber Pearl Harbor?

    March 21, 2008 at 11:02 am |
  8. Mita

    Roland, thanks for providing the context. It is clear from postings above that people who are pro HRC will not look understand. They and some of the media including CNN have played the tapes over and over to reduce this pastor to 3 mins...he has a lifetime of ideas and thoughts...not just three mins! And while the words are disturbing, it it no reflection on Sen. Obama. I have been around people I care about that have different views and often express in strong language....does not make me like them! People need to understand that professing patriotism does not make a patriot and using strong disturbibng language on a few occasions does not define one's whole life!

    March 21, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  9. mary

    I know you won't post this comment but here goes anyway. I am shocked that this article was included with CNN's good name. The article has the endorsement of legitimate newscasters and will be respected. You were not in the church when Wright delivered these speeches and you did not sit there when his aggressive and unpatriotic sermons were delivered. I hope you can look yourselves in the mirror tomorrow morning and I feel very sorry for you.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  10. candice

    Great article. We can get on the path to breaking down racial barriers and misunderstandings in this country by supporting RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM and denouncing or boycotting the irresponsible. Roland, you, my friend, continue to exemplify the responsible journalist. Thank you for being my voice. Keep it up!

    March 21, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  11. E.S. Barbre Jr.

    I'm not concerned about the "9/11" sermon. I'm concerned by the obviously racist rhetoric in the other sermons. You can put those in whatever "context" you want. Racist is racist, and those sermons have been going on, with Obama in attendance, for many many years. For Obama to try and distance himself from those now is disingenous at best. How many people would listen to a racist pastor, and then try to explain it away by saying he only gives "spiritual guidance"? Absurd in the extreme.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  12. dan

    You mean to tell me that you can't pass judgment on the sermon from a 30 second youtube clip.....I've been duped!

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  13. Tim Biddle

    Do you really think he's telling the whole picture?

    There is no context here, no expression, no tone in the voice to indicate emotional tone. Nothing.

    I'm sure he's confirmed all your biases.

    Of course, the statements them selves are rife with logical fallacies and half truths, but that's not the issue here.

    Agreed, this is another non issue that the media is focused. So far both candidates have stood above the hate/fear monger the media has constantly bombarded them with and tried to stick to the issues that matter.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  14. Kevin Campbell

    It's good to get the full context, thank you. But if what I read is correct, Mr. Wright obviously AGREES with the ambassadors words. The context doesn't justify a thing.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  15. Jana Whaley

    Thank you so much for looking at the context and the entire sermon. I really appreciate your dedication to the truth anderson Cooper and
    Roland Martin. I think if more people took the time to read this that they would understand why Obama remained in the church even though he disagreed with some of Wright's controversial statements.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  16. Change the subject

    Obama's speech on race was strictly to change the subject. He was rightly being criticized for his strong ties with Reverand Wright(even after he said he would fire Don Imus for his comments)...so he changed to the subject to talk about America and race...making obvious assertions like "slavery was bad" no kidding. He also lumped Geraldine Ferraro in with Wright...all Ferraro did was point out that Obama has received more buzz because he is 1/2 black. Which is true.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  17. Pat M Canada

    Thank You Roland. Your quote on Edward Peck puts the Reverend's statement in context for sure. And the rest of his sermon seems quite normal with respect to a Minister addressing his congregation. I agree with his statements totally. Violence,begets Violence .............
    And I truly believe America's Administration regardless of party, has to limit it's importance on Power and increase it's importance on National and Intenational unity if World Peace is ever to succeed.

    I don't know where the other excerps of Rev. Wright's sermons came from but as you say, this doesn't clear up his other disturbing comments. And I for one, wish it did so America could get back on the important issues affecting Americans.

    The other wish I have is that Obama would address his associations with Rezko and others who have donated to his campaign. If he would do so I"m sure it would give Americans more understanding of his background and dispell the feelings that there may be underlying factors they are not aware of. I'm sure by doing so, he would win the nomination. And I do believe he has a great deal to offer America as a Leader and could bring about a positive change.

    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  18. Sandra

    I am curious. why is Rev. Wright statements making more of a big deal against Obama than Senator McCain relationship and statements from John Hague and Ron Parsely. Why isn't CNN doing an neutral comparison demonstrating that other canditates are facing the same issue and have done exactly what Obama did. Is that racist? Is that CNN supporting one candidate over the other.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  19. dsw

    I would hope that this story is on the evening new to set things right and perhaps undo some of the harm this story has brought upon Senator Obama.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  20. Jim

    Roland you are an Obama backer just like everyone else at CNN, what happened to objective!!!!!

    March 21, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  21. Jean, Michigan

    Thank you, Roland, for taking the time to explore Rev. Wright's words in greater depth. Unfortunately, I share Kathy from Andover's view that this is probably the only place we'll see this information. Given the media's propensity to criticize Obama for every little thing these days, I fear the truth may be buried.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  22. Mike

    There is no point in slicing and dicing Wright's sermons...the damming fact is that he said "GOD DAMN AMERICA"

    March 21, 2008 at 10:58 am |
  23. jenkins

    Words Matter! Isn't this what Barack says? Judgement matters. Isn't this what Barack says? He had the judgement (as a junior state senator) to oppose the war. Did he also oppose this racist maniac? No, he didn't and he'll lose because of this. You can't have it both ways. You lose Obama!

    March 21, 2008 at 10:58 am |
  24. Don

    Thank you for posting the actual partial transcript, rather than the selective snippets.

    Could you possibly point out where we could also get full transcripts of what Rev. Wright has supposedly said?

    I have been trying to look into what I now understand to be a particular style of preaching used by Rev. Wright in order to better understand the WHY, more so that the WHAT.

    I would also like to thank you for your comments last night regarding the fact that CNN (or some similar institution) would do well to fully explore the reasons for these statements and report it, more so then the WHAT. Heaven forbid we should finally have a rational discussion about such things.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:57 am |
  25. dsw

    I wish that someone in the journalism field had, had the decency to show the full picure from the beginning, instead of opting to tarnish Senator Obama’s Campaign for TV ratings. I don’t want the media to alter the path of what may be a great and historic campiagn and the first great leader our country and has seen since JFK. Someone who speaks the truth even when it is ugly, and someone who treats us like adults and human beings not pawns in a political game.
    OBAMA 08

    March 21, 2008 at 10:57 am |
  26. Juan Venadito

    No doubt the Obama camp will have your check in the mail. It's laughable to see you on CNN defending Wright and Obama. Of course you found the sermon acceptable. You looked for material to support your thesis. If a white candidate had been linked to a white racist pastor would you go through the same mental acrobatics to excuse that pastor? Good luck convincing clear thinking Americans that Obama's links with the racist Wright are ok. By the way are you also going to analyze Obama's words when he said that all white Americans are racists as he did yesterday?

    March 21, 2008 at 10:57 am |
  27. Ben

    Beyond just the context of the sermon, why was this guy preaching on international relations, foreign affairs? Democrats (including myself at times) get so indignant about evangelicals using religion to get a political point across, yet when a liberal minister does it, we don't really care, unless the message is extreme or inflammitory, as in this case.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  28. Wayne, Greenville TX

    It's amazing how Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, and others have taken Rev. Wright's words out of context and used them to slam a man who has devoted his life to serving his fellow man. All the right-wing talk show hosts (and a large portion of the media) owe the reverend an apology.

    And thank you, Roland, for searching for and finding the truth.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  29. Howard

    Thank you Roland for being the voice of CNN that cares about the truth.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  30. Alice


    I love you and your show. I watch you every night. But don't you think we as a nation need to move on to more pressing issues and leave Rev. Wright and his comments behind. Enough is enough! Please move on to real news!

    Thank you!
    Your #1 fan,

    March 21, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  31. PeterK

    Perfect! To the point and most of all the whole picture... not some selected part to provoke controversy! I was, am and will be Obama

    March 21, 2008 at 10:55 am |
  32. Brian

    keep drinking the kool aid.

    Obama wanted discussions on race, well.
    hes getting what he wanted

    March 21, 2008 at 10:55 am |
  33. Gayle CA


    The Media FAILED. Before CNN plasted the clips from Rev. Wright all over the news, they had a duty to also provide context. While it is great to see your one article, is it too little too late?

    March 21, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  34. Mike Bowers

    Why doesn't CNN prodcast the entire sermon or at least a larger portion that puts the sound bite in context. Just playing the sound bite does a disservice to all Americans and puts a black mark on CNN. Playing a sound bite out of context. So far out of context that it reverses the intent is something I'd expect out of Fox News, not CNN.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  35. Danny in Pittsburgh

    Our :30 second sound byte society has completely forgotten the lesson of "context" for all of our opinions.

    Thank you for the reminder. I see you are NOT trying to excuse the man, but rather, illuminate the issue completely.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:52 am |
  36. Barry, IL

    It's high time Pastor Wright comes out and explains himself to the media.Then and only then, we will have a clear picture of his crazy statements.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:52 am |
  37. Paula

    Roland, Thank you thank you for being the voice of reason and balance in this upheaval.
    My son goes to a church that follows Christ but has a doctrine we don't follow..but the love of Jesus is there and it shines through.
    My son flourishes in that love and acceptance. That is what matters most..Barack found the love of Christ there.. and just because you stand in a garage it doesn't make you a car.. Barack doesn't have a racist, mean bone in his body.
    Half truths, half heard, half explained ideas always bring hate and division. Today is good Friday.. Jesus was crucified because people only took snippets of his teachings and turned against him.
    No I am NOT in any way way comparing Jesus and Barack far from it.. but please people LISTEN to the whole truth before you judge. Roland you cared enough and respect your job as a journalist to do that, it is rare in the media these days. You are a fine and just reporter, thanks.

    Also, please note the generous, mild manner in which Barack is answereing back..now -that is the love and understanding we all need to show one another. I wish we could all answer back to verbal attacks with such class and grace.
    Paula Diane

    March 21, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  38. Howard

    Thank you Roland for being the one voice of CNN that cares about the truth

    March 21, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  39. carolflowery

    nothing makes his statement acceptable, nothing

    March 21, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  40. RigdenPoet

    Are you really still on that, Anderson? We're in a recession, we need to end the war, and this nonissue is what you want to waste the American people's time beating like a dead trojan horse?

    Please, get back to meaningful issues, like health care or education or our TRILLION DOLLAR WAR.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  41. Howard

    Thank you Roland for being the one voice of CNN that cares about the truth

    March 21, 2008 at 10:50 am |
  42. Wanda A. Sheffield

    I challenge all the reporters at CNN to attend the white churches of those pastors who made racial remarks to see if their members left the church.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:47 am |
  43. Cindy

    Thanks Roland for laying it out for us. It seems no one else in the media actually took the time to watch the actual tape. They just took the excerpts and ran with it.

    It helps understand more by knowing the full sermon but it doesn't excuse what he said.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:36 am |
  44. Melissa - Cleveland, Ohio

    Can I get an "Ahem"! Thanks for giving us the FULL story. Now let's report on this as strongly as the media did the original story. I was watching Newt Gingrich comment on the story and he used the "chickens come home to roost" line about 10 times. I'm sure he probably never looked at the content. Let's expose that nonsense.

    Fantastic work!

    March 21, 2008 at 10:35 am |
  45. Cheryl, Upstate, NY

    I truly admire your quest for finding the truth. I have watched you over the past week and you have taken many pot shots about Barack and have stood your ground. It saddens me that many people are willing to criticize Barack about his church and his pastor, but there is most likely more to the story. I think you should look at some of his sermons that were not controversial and report on how they have uplifted his congregation. I don't agree with the divisive language Reverend Wright used, but I am open minded enough to let the story unfold to reveal the truth. I am certain that he must have preached good things throughout his career or that church would not have become as popular as it did.
    I do believe the media should give this whole Reverend Wright story a rest. Everyone talks about negative campaigning from the candidates; well the media just keeps adding fuel to the fire. Good luck Roland on you quest for the truth.

    42 year old white female
    Upstate NY

    March 21, 2008 at 10:33 am |
  46. Lynne

    Thanks, Roland. Perspective and context are so important. Lately news networks take small sound bites, play them over and over and over, but without the context it's impossible to know.

    Another example is Mr. Obama's comment on the radio – if you listen to the whole conversation you can here him pause to come up with the adjective he wanted – he was looking for "ordinary" but instead come up with "typical". It's that simple.

    I admire Mr. Obama's forthrightness and will be happy to give him my vote.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:31 am |
  47. Kristy

    of course you would think that- Race i obviously an issue because NO media outlet has ignored it, every time Clinton or Obama try to move on what happens, they ask him a question about it, so he has to answer. I'm tired of both side say why don't you show clinton more or why don't you show obama more. and then when you get your wish. why is always bad coverage. Well you asked for it be it good or bad. so get off it. and i've watched Lou Dobbs and he is just as bad so don't even try think that he is better than anybody else, because on his show yesterday he talked about race too

    March 21, 2008 at 10:29 am |
  48. Kristy

    Thank you Roland,
    For showing the Truth.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:22 am |
  49. Nilla

    I wish CNN and MSNBC would have given Clinton half the attention you have given to this man. Work vs words. Race is really no longer an issue unless of course you try and make it one. Obama is the one who is divisive and he will loose if nominated.

    To me Murtha's endorsement carries much more weight than the little looser with the bad wig from the state with a population of 120 on a good day. Yet you all but ignored it, the same way Nancy Pelosi did when she took impeachment "off the table". It seems to me CNN and the other news channels (Lou Dobbs excluded) have an agenda that is not in the best interest of this country or the people.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:19 am |
  50. Kathy, Andover

    Thank you for providing the full picture, Roland. This is probably the only place we'll see it though.

    March 21, 2008 at 10:17 am |
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