Ninth District Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis was in the audience for what he termed “a marvelous service and even more marvelous speech” as President delivered remarks at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney at the College of Charleston Arena in Charleston, S.C. on Friday.
‘I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him more on target and direct about race and about African-American issues,” said Cohen, who talked with The New Tri-State Defender by by telephone soon after the service. “He was received – as we knew he would be, hailed as a hero….”
Noting that Charleston is home to Fort Sumter, the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War, Cohen said it was quite a historic day “being at the arena with President Barack Obama talking about the Confederate flag and racism and slavery and Jim Crow.”
Asked if he thought a result of the tragedy might be an open door to a change for the better in race relations, Cohen said, “I hope it does and it may. There were quite a few Republicans there, a bipartisan group from South Carolina and there were a few others as well. It might have opened some of their eyes and hearts. But it is sometimes difficult because they do have a different constituency base, some people whose hearts have never been opened, and minds have not been open and never will. It is going to take time for those people to be phased out of our consciousness. I do think there is a possibility that there is something good that will come out of this.”
Cohen said the American people “certainly had to be energized” by the President’s eulogy, adding that he thinks it is going to be considered one of the epic addresses of the President’s time in office.
“I think the fact that he dealt openly about race, more open than I think he has ever done … more personal. I think he is heading to speak more truth and speak from his heart. Not that he hasn’t in the past, but sometimes he’s been tempered because of his election and the realization that the country still has divisions and still has animus even though he has won twice.”
The President, said Cohen, is likely going to dedicate himself a great deal to issues that are important to the African-American community.
“Not that he hasn’t done it with the Affordable Care Act, not that he hasn’t done it with calls to raise the minimum wage, not that he hasn’t done it with issues like that, and calls for voting rights extension,” he said.
“But I think you are going to see more of him kind of shifting from the President of the United States to My Brother’s Keeper and My Brother’s Keeper involves talking about people who go to bed hungry, people who may be homeless, people who need job training, people who need an opportunity to get a job.
“And the Jamal and Johnny line (from the speech) was very strong, well received and appropriate. I don’t think the President has gone there in the past as directly as he did today.”