"Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company," Obama said. "But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation."
He called on both groups to move beyond their anger and grievances to work together.
With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, Obama sees himself as uniquely able to deliver this call for the nation to move forward together.
Today he said his background "hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts -- that out of man, we are truly one."
That very postracial appeal is at risk with Obama's 20-year relationship with Wright, a man who says among other things, the U.S. government created AIDS to kill black Americans.
Moving from Wright to his Democratic and Republican rivals and the media, Obama said, "We can play Rev. Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election. ... We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to[GOP presidential nominee] John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. "
It was quite the high-wire act for Obama to address Wright's anger without seeming to justify it, while taking on the most sensitive subject in American discourse.
Todd Boyd, a professor of race and popular culture at the University of Southern California, says the challenge that faces Obama is considerable.
"We've never really had a proper discussion about race and racism in this society so when comments come about as they have throughout this campaign we really don't know how to act," Boyd said. "We really don't know what to do with them. Whatever Obama has to say about race at some level he might as well be speaking to the wall because it's not going to make any difference in a society where people don't know the ins and outs and outs and ins about talking about a very volatile issue."
The more pressing questions for Obama, of course, may be the political ones.
Why wasn't this issue dealt with until now? What else do voters not know about Obama? And how will voters receive his pledge to unite the country given his attendance at a church where those of his mother's hue might not feel comfortable?
Amid much keen thought and fine oratory, those questions, today, went unanswered.
ABC News' Susan Rucci and Nitya Venkatamaran contributed to this report.