IMAGE: Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill.
Alex Brandon  /  AP
Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., speaks during the Essence Fest in the Superdome in New Orleans, Thursday - the first Essence Festival back in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.
updated 7/6/2007 8:36:26 AM ET 2007-07-06T12:36:26

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama urged spectators at the Essence Music Festival to help change the course of American history by addressing the social ills brought to light by Hurricane Katrina.

The Illinois senator reminded the crowd gathered Thursday that New Orleans was plagued by poverty, failing schools and high crime and murder rates for far too long before the catastrophic storm even hit.

"The legacy of race and poverty continues to shape our lives every day and it's time we did something about it," Obama said.

If any good news came out of Katrina, he said, "It's that America was ashamed on that day and the days that followed. America was shocked."

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He said money being spent on the war in Iraq - about $275 million a day - would be put to better use if redirected to address problems within the United States.

"We've got needs here. We've got wars on the streets of New Orleans that need to be tended to," Obama said.

Obama was not the only presidential candidate interested in visiting the festival that draws thousands of mostly blacks to New Orleans for a mixture of music, seminars and shopping. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was scheduled to speak during Friday afternoon's events.

Obama spoke for nearly 20 minutes to a receptive crowd that clapped often and was on its feet as he finished.

New Orleans resident Bridget Johnson, 43, said she was grateful that both Obama and Clinton were coming to the festival.

"It tells us that we are not forgotten," she said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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