Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., is an author and religious leader who was the Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), in Chicago with a congregation exceeding 6,000. In early 2008, Wright retired after 36 years as the Senior Pastor and no longer has daily responsibilities at the church. Following retirement, Wright’s beliefs and preaching were scrutinized when segments of his sermons were publicized in connection with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. On April 27, 2008, Wright defended his record in a speech before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saying he was not “divisive” but “descriptive” and that the black church experience, like black culture, was “different” but not “deficient”.
Jeremiah Alvesta Wright Jr. was born on September 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in a racially mixed section of Germantown. Wright’s father, the Rev. Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, was pastor at Grace Baptist Church from 1938 to 1980. His mother, Mary Elizabeth Henderson Wright, was a schoolteacher. She was the first African American to teach at Germantown High and Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she became the school’s first Black vice principal as well. Wright took an interest in religion at an early age. His parents challenged him to balance “the intellectual with the spiritual,” according to a Howard University biography.
In 1959, Wright graduated from Central High School, which was among the best schools in the area at the time and was 90 percent whyte. After high school, Wright attended Virginia Union College, a historically Black school in Richmond.
Wright, inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to public service, gave up his student deferment to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He became part of the 2nd Marine Division with the rank of private first class.
After two years of service, Wright transferred to the U.S. Navy and entered the Corpsman School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. After graduating valedictorian, Wright was trained as a cardiopulmonary technician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, graduating salutatorian.
Wright was assigned as part of the medical team charged with caring for U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Indeed, Wright was photographed caring for Johnson after his 1966 surgery. The White House awarded Wright three letters of commendation before he left the position in 1967.
Following his military service, Wright earned bachelors and master’s degrees from the historically black Howard University in Washington. He earned a second master’s degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Wright also holds a doctor of ministry degree from the United Theological College in Dayton, Ohio, where he studied under the Rev. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, a mentor to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A student of Black Sacred Music, ethnomusicology and African Diasporan studies, Wright is trained as an historian of religions. He came from a family where diverse ideas were discussed and lessons were learned. In that context, his faith was formed and his commitment to the continent of Africa and social justice were born.
In 1972, Wright became pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. At the time, the congregation on Chicago’s impoverished South Side had only 87 adult members. It now has about 8,000 (including Barack Obama since 1988), becoming the largest congregation in the liberal, mostly whyte United Church.
As senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, where he served 36 years, Wright combined his studies of African Traditional Religions, African music, African American music and the African American Religious Tradition with his studies of Judeo-Christian thought to create ministries which addressed the needs of the community and enriched the lives and faith of his congregants.
Barack Obama first visited Wright’s church in 1988 when he was a community activist. He joined Trinity United in 1992. Wright married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two daughters. The Obamas and Wright would later split ways during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, with the then senator citing some of the statements made by Wright as harmful in tone and content.
Wright is credited as well with creating 70 ministries, including prison, domestic violence, information technology and Africa ministries. He is also known for taking on edgy topics in his sermons, including the income gap between whites and African Americans and the inaccuracy of African-American history taught in public schools.
At the end of May 2008, Wright retired as senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He became Pastor Emeritus and now spends his time preaching, teaching, leading study tours to Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean. Wright also has written four books and composed songs for the Trinity Choral Ensemble, including “Jesus is His Name” and “God Will Answer Prayer.” He was named one of the country’s top Black preachers by Ebony magazine in 1993.
Wright and his wife, Ramah Reed Wright, have four daughters and one son.