It was an Obama seldom, if ever, seen since he took office in 2009. Instead, it was perhaps a window into the next, final phase of Obama's presidency, a chapter that could promise less of a focus on optics and more on the boldness and honesty that marked the earlier stages of his political career.
Regardless of what's to come, Friday's address went beyond Obama's previous actions in one major way: He spoke about race and racism with a directness he held back from before.
"Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it," he said. Beyond explicit prejudice, Obama called for a recognition of "the subtle racism" that leads those making hiring decisions to "call back Johnny, and not Jamal, for a job interview."
"By recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what is necessary to make opportunity real for every American," he said. "By doing that, we express God's grace."
"Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race," Obama continued. "We talk a lot about race. There's no shortcut. We don't need more talk."
Spoken at a funeral, his words could have been criticized as exploiting tragedy for political gain, but Obama was unapologetic about linking a social change, faith, and Pinckney's life and death. The grand tradition of the AME church, he noted in his speech, is to embrace the interwoven relationship of church and political life—and he did that in full.
Though Obama was reluctant to talk about race during most of his time in office, lately he's been more candid in addressing it. In an interview this week, he opened up about the "long shadow" that Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery has cast on American life.
"That's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it," he said. "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say n----- in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."
He also reopened a conversation about guns and gun violence, revisiting a topic just days after he conceded that there was little chance of new laws being passed.
"For too long, we've been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. Sporadically, our eyes are open. When eight of our brothers and sisters are gunned down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in elementary school," Obama said. "But I hope we also see that 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day ... the vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now."