Democrats gathering as Clinton gains momentum NAACP delegates shun Perot following 'you people' remarks

July 12, 1992|By Ginger Thompson | Ginger Thompson,Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Also, a photo caption accompanying a report on the NAACP convention published Sunday incorrectly identified Gentry Trotter. Mr. Trotter is president of the board of directors of Crisis magazine.

The Sun regrets the errors.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ross Perot made Bill Clinton's work a lot easier at the national convention of the NAACP yesterday.

Both presidential hopefuls were received with raucous applause and praise from the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Yet many of the delegates turned a cold shoulder to Mr. Perot after he delivered a speech in which he repeatedly referred to blacks as "you people." He left the stage with only a few handshakes and light applause.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

A few hours later, Mr. Clinton and his running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, swept into the ballroom looking tanned, standing ++ tall and speaking against the "you vs. them mentality." As they departed, it was clear from the mob of delegates who surrounded them that the "new generation ticket" stole the show.

"They are my choice for sure now," said Rose Wilson, president of the Lubbock branch of the NAACP. "I had an open mind and listened to Perot and Clinton. But after today, there's no way I could support Perot.

"After all the criticism I've heard about [Mr. Clinton], he still rings out as someone who wants to do the right thing for this country."

It was another blow to Mr. Perot's campaign, which has suffered several setbacks in the past few weeks.

Mr. Perot's appearance before the civil rights organization was the first time he had taken his standard put-people-back-to-work speech to people who had not already pledged to support his campaign. But in his remarks to the crowd of about 800 people, he appeared out of touch with their sensitivities and concerns.

Most of Mr. Perot's references to blacks were in the context of poverty, drugs and the criminal justice system.

As he spoke about America's declining economy and increasing unemployment, Mr. Perot said, "I don't have to tell you who gets hurt most when this happens, do I? You people do, your people do. I know that, you know that."

"Your people!" yelled Hosac Sharp, a 21-year-old student from Chicago. "Your people!"

His voice becoming uncharacteristically low and shaky, Mr. Perot responded, "Thank you."

"Correct it," Mr. Sharp yelled.

But Mr. Perot didn't hear the heckler, and a few minutes later he made the same gaffe speaking about crime that ravages most inner cities.

Harking back to the days when even people in the poorest communities slept with their doors unlocked, Mr. Perot said, "Now decent people across the country, especially your people, have bars on their windows."

Mr. Perot also spoke at length about the poor blacks who worked for his father in Texarkana, Texas.

He recalled how his father gave handouts to the poor blacks of the community, but that, too, touched a raw nerve in the audience.

He has a "plantation mentality," Dewey Alexander, a businessman from Kansas City, Mo., said later. "Talking about how his father helped the poor blacks who worked for him, it was very condescending."

In his speech, Mr. Perot said, "When they were too old to work, my father would pay them out of his own pocket. And I remember he would say to me, 'Son, they are people, too, and they have to live.' "

Then Mr. Perot boasted about how, as a child, he delivered newspapers in the poorest section of town -- a black area where most whites refused to go.

"Those [black residents] were warm, caring, decent people," he said, as if pleading with a racist white audience.

Most smiles in the crowd turned from genuine to polite. Dr. Hooks said he saw many people in the audience cringe.

One of those was Paul Keyes, president of the NAACP branch in New Haven, Conn., who said that Mr. Perot's speech showed his lack of understanding of the needs of the black community -- and an even greater lack of finesse.

"A lot of white people tell stories like he did to try to show black people that they are not racist and that they understand how we feel," Mr. Keyes said. "He turned off a lot of people because he showed he doesn't understand us at all."

There were a few moments when the audience applauded and the stage organ sounded in support of Mr. Perot: when he spoke of revitalizing inner cities by creating capital and credit opportunities for small businesses and when he declared support for full congressional representation for Washington, D.C.

His most enthusiastic applause came when he said that he refused to run for president as a Democrat or a Republican because "I didn't want to sell out. I want to belong to you, and I will belong to you."

But convention delegates seemed to forget those remarks by the end of his speech.

"On one hand, he spoke about a united team and then he brings up this 'your people' stuff," said Walter Hunt of Nashville. "It just .. shows the ignorance of a lot of white politicians."

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