On This Day In 2008, Obama Grabbed The Nation's Attention With A Speech On Race

03/18/2015 11:39 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2015

On March 18, 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gave a speech on race that grabbed the attention of the nation and helped define his 2008 presidential campaign.

At the time, Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) were the two leading candidates in the Democratic primary. Obama had faced controversy when video surfaced of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor in Illinois, making insensitive and inflammatory racial remarks.

Obama’s speech, called "A More Perfect Union," was presented at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and lasted almost 40 minutes. The candidate specifically addressed Wright, the role of race in the campaign, inequality and privilege in America, and religion:

At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

A couple of weeks before the speech, Obama condemned Wright's remarks on The Huffington Post's blog. He repeated that sentiment during the speech:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected,” Obama added.

In 2009, NBC News named Obama's Philadelphia speech as the best political speech of the decade. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times called it “Obama’s Lincoln Moment” the day after the speech.

Obama went on to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency later that year.

Watch the full speech above.

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