Davis blasts Selma organizers for inviting pastor

Published 4:31 pm Friday, January 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis criticized Selma organizers Friday for inviting President Barack Obama’s former Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to this year’s commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march.

Davis, a four-term congressman from Birmingham who chaired Obama’s Alabama campaign, said in a letter to organizers that the pastor’s divisive rhetoric is inconsistent with the theme of the event and Obama’s message of unity.

“I am offended by the vehemence of Wright’s commentaries on race in America. President Obama was similarly offended,” Davis wrote Friday to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, which hosts the march. “What a sad irony it would be to extend a prominent role in that event to the figure whose rhetoric and histrionics at one point imperiled our new President’s campaign.”

Officials with the museum did not immediately return phone messages Friday afternoon.

Davis also argued that Wright’s presence — particularly any speaking role — could drive away other prominent invitees such as U.S. Attorney General nominee Eric Holder.

Wright’s invitation was announced this week, although it was not confirmed that he would attend or be asked to speak. The event frequently draws headliners, including Obama and former President Bill Clinton in previous years.

The theme for this year’s march is “The Bridge to the White House,” with the planning committee highlighting the 1965 attack on marchers at the city’s Edmund Pettus Bridge as a stepping stone for Obama’s election.

Wright, who was pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ for nearly 40 years, became a flashpoint in last year’s presidential campaign when videos surfaced showing his provocative sermons about whites and racism in America.

Obama distanced himself from his longtime pastor and ultimately criticized his rhetoric as divisive.

Davis, who attended Harvard Law School with Obama and discussed a potential Cabinet post with Obama after November’s election, sent the letter as he plans to announce soon a 2010 bid for governor. His office said he has not discussed the matter with Obama.