NEW YORK – Barack Obama brought out his secret weapon Thursday night in Harlem: Chris Rock.
Hundreds of supporters paid $50 apiece to attend the fundraiser at the historic Apollo Theater, which marked Obama's first visit to Harlem since launching his presidential bid. Rock — a comedian not exactly known for his politically correct humor — introduced Obama and cracked up the crowd with the night's only direct reference to Hillary Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the Democratic nomination.
Never one to shy away from blunt language, Rock told the crowd that he was glad to see them “on the right side of history.”
Because, he said, “You’d be real embarrassed if he won and you wasn’t down with it. ‘I can’t call him now! I had that white lady. What was I thinking? What was I thinking',” he joked, referring to Obama’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton.
The crowd gathered at the Apollo early and was treated to a long warm-up act prior to the senator’s speech while he and the Rev. Al Sharpton dined in Harlem’s famous soul food restaurant, Sylvia’s. Sharpton said the visit should not be construed as an endorsement of Obama's candidacy.
At the fundraiser, Obama invoked a recent racially charged controversy, saying he deplored the fact that hanging nooses and other "Jena Six"-like cases are still found in America. If elected president, he said he could be counted on to enforce civil rights laws.
In the Jena Six incident, six black teenagers were arrested after they allegedly beat a white teen who they believed was involved in hanging nooses at their Jena, Louisiana, high school.
Obama, who is running to be the first black president, touched on several themes of racial justice before the largely black audience. He said he was tired of seeing young black men "languishing" on city streets and that he dreaded the thought of living through another administration that appeared to care little for the concerns of minority citizens.
"I don't want to wake up in four years and find out we still have more black men in prison than in college," he said to cheers.
Cornel West, a longtime black history professor at universities including Harvard and Princeton, also appeared onstage to welcome Obama. He called Obama "an eloquent brother, a good brother, a decent brother," and appeared to address concerns voiced by some black leaders that Obama was a relative newcomer to the civil rights movement.
"Barack Obama comes at an incredibly powerful moment in the year 2007, and we don't expect him to be Marcus Garvey ... or Martin Luther King," West said of the two famed civil rights icons.
Despite Obama's high-energy appeal for support, Clinton is still the candidate who is viewed most favorably among likely black voters, according to a recent study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The survey of 750 African Americans from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2 found Clinton was rated favorably by 83 percent of those surveyed, while Obama was rated favorably by 74.4 percent.
FOX News' Bonney Kapp and The Associated Press contributed to this report.