It may seem odd, decades after the civil-rights movement, to note that for a sitting President to say that the Confederacy fought for the institution of slavery—and that doing so was a moral wrong—is a radical statement. Yet it is, and shortly after making it the President fell silent. It appeared that perhaps he had lost his way, but then, in a remarkable moment, he began to sing “Amazing Grace,” a hymn that is at once a lament, a prayer, and a hope—written by John Newton, a onetime slave trader who became an abolitionist. Immediately after the speech, people began debating whether the song had been part of the prepared text or whether the President sang it out of an impromptu spiritual imperative. In either case, he was likely hoping to see in the national culture precisely the transformation that Newton had experienced in himself, one that facilitated his first truthful accounting of the evil of slavery.
— JELANI COBB