As the nation prepares for the transition of power in the White House this week, we recall how the College of Charleston played a major part in two very important – but starkly different – moments in the political career of President Barack Obama.
After winning the Iowa Democratic Party caucuses in 2008, Obama was looking to use that momentum for a big victory in the South Carolina Democratic Primary. Still trailing Hillary Clinton in the polls, the Obama campaign decided to use a College of Charleston rally to make a major announcement.
The crowds started gathering early on the morning of Jan. 11, 2008. Thousands of people packed into the Cistern Yard for the noon event that was part of the College’s Bully Pulpit series. The excitement reached a fever pitch by the time Obama and U.S. Sen. John Kerry walked on stage. The event marked Kerry’s official endorsement of Obama.
The rally helped to propel Obama to a major victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary.
“Obama received the endorsement at a sunny, noonday rally at the College of Charleston, where a large crowd with many students and supporters stood under trees that were draped with Spanish moss. Obama called it a spectacular day and he praised Kerry for his service in Vietnam and for raising a voice against that war when he returned.”
–NPR’s Brian Naylor
The scene was much different when Obama made a second visit to the College in the wake of the massacre at nearby Emanuel AME Church.
On June 26 — nine days after the shootings — Obama went to TD Arena to honor the life of slain pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine parishioners killed in the tragedy. The president’s stirring eulogy has been widely cited as one of the best speeches of his presidency.
“There’s no denying that the speech’s power came in part from those who heard it. In the best African-American Christian tradition, Obama and his audience fed off each other in call-and-response fashion. Someone transported into the present from 1968 might have mistaken him more for a modern-day Martin Luther King Jr. than a successor to Lyndon Johnson.
But you didn’t need to come from any faith tradition to see that something transformative was happening in the College of Charleston TD Arena. As he’s managed to do few times in his presidency, Obama became a fully integrated, fully actualized civil rights president.
As one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency reached full crescendo, Obama returned to ‘Amazing Grace.’ In full song, he harmonized in a pitch almost as perfect as the speech itself.”