NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Closing out 15 years as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Benjamin L. Hooks called on President Bush to form a new national commission like the Kerner Commission to address the needs of the nation's cities, called for more black self-help programs and offered an enthusiastic argument in favor of NAACP's continued relevance and accomplishments.
Presiding for the last time over the annual convention of the nation's largest civil rights organization yesterday, Mr. Hooks offered a spirited response to questions about the effectiveness and relevance of the organization.
The 67-year-old director also offered an enthusiastic appraisal of the Democratic presidential ticket and, in blunt criticism of the Republican Party, said his pride in his term in office was tempered by frustration over the environment in which he served.
"I've had the misfortune of serving eight years under Reagan and three under Bush," said Mr. Hooks, who succeeded Roy Wilkins as NAACP director and who announced in February that he would retire next year. "It makes a great deal of difference about your expectations. We've had to get rid of a lot of programs we had hoped for, so we could fight to save what we already had."
Mr. Hooks, an ordained minister who combines an oratorical style that comes out of the black church, returned to his home state for his final NAACP national convention. At turns fiesty and philosophical, Mr. Hooks said his main goal at the official opening of the annual convention was to defend the NAACP against accusations that it had slipped from the forefront of the drive for black equality.
In a 41-page report entitled "Let The Record Show," the organization listed a long string of achievements over the past 15 years in several areas, including legislation, legal challenges, direct action like demonstrations, cultural and educational programs and economic programs. In his remarks, Mr. Hooks, who remains extremely popular with most of the NAACP membership, dismissed criticisms that the organization had somehow lost its edge.
"Despite what is said about the 'old fogeyism' of the association, or about its irrelevance, the NAACP remains the undisputed leader and major force in the civil rights arena," he said. "Even our critics acknowledge that. I'm proud of what we have managed to achieve over 15 years. These have not been the years the locusts have eaten."