A Eulogy Calls Out for Justice

July 22, 2015

On June 17, 2015, a white man shot and killed nine black churchgoers at a Charleston, South Carolina Bible study class. On June 26, President Obama delivered the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of those murdered. His eulogy connected the killings to pressing issues related to racial injustice in the United States. In this lesson, students analyze the eulogy to uncover these issues and find out where the president stands on them.  

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • read or listen to President Obama’s eulogy of Clementa Pinckney
  • analyze passages from the eulogy, focusing on race-related injustices
  • plan and take action based on the president’s call to action


Ask students what they know or remember about the massacre in Charleston’s Emanuel AME church on June 17, 2015. Remind them that a white man shot and killed nine African American church members who were holding a Bible study session. Tell students that in this lesson, they will focus on President Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of those murdered.

If possible, show students a recording of the eulogy, which lasts just under 40 minutes. If students have internet access at home, you can ask them to watch the eulogy at home, and then do the lesson the next day in class. Another option is to have students read the transcript of the eulogy at home ahead of time, so that they are ready to work with the material in class. (A transcript of the eulogy is here.) Whether they view it or read the transcript, ask students to make notes of anything in the eulogy that stands out to them.

Ask students to share their impressions of the eulogy.


Analyzing the Eulogy: A Jigsaw Activity

Divide the class into five groups. Give each group one of the passages from the eulogy.

Ask one member of each group to read the group’s passage to the other group members. Ask them to discuss the passage, using these questions to guide them:

a. What injustice does the passage address?

b. What was the president saying about the injustice?

c. Why do you think the president included this topic in the eulogy?

Ask each group to prepare a brief presentation about the passage and the group’s analysis of it. Have each group present its passage and analysis to the rest of the class. Leave time for questions and comments.

Ask students: What common theme(s) do you see in these passages? How would you sum up what the president was saying in the eulogy about racism and justice?

A Call to Action

Read to students this passage from the eulogy:

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual - that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change - that’s how we lose our way again.

It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Ask: What point was the president was making in this segment of the eulogy?

Read to students this passage from the eulogy:

Reverend Pinckney once said, "Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history - we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history." What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past - how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind - but, more importantly, an open heart.


  • What did the president say would lead toward healing the wounds of racism?
  • What might that look like in your life?

Give students a few minutes to write down their answers to these questions. Explain that the writing is not to turn in, just to give them a chance to collect their thoughts.

With students, discuss what your class can do to avoid "slipping back into old habits"?

Come to an agreement on an action for students to take. Plan and take the action.