U.S. blacks urged to foster ties with Africa Affirmative action gets high-profile support at NAACP convention

July 15, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- As national leaders continued yesterday to denounce assaults on affirmative action as unfair to blacks, some turned their criticism on African-Americans, urging them to support Africa economically and politically.

"For African-Americans, it's not just a matter of cultural connection, it's not just a moral question," said David N. Dinkins, former mayor of New York City and chairman of Constituency for Africa, a Washington-based advocacy group. "It's a question of our mutual shared future."

He and others urged blacks to support pending legislation to foster trade between the United States and Africa and to become active in human rights issues on the continent.

Earlier at the organization's 89th annual convention in Atlanta, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Andrew M. Cuomo, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said affirmative action has been successful and is necessary to stem racial discrimination in the United States.

Powell said government-mandated desegregation of the armed services led to his career success and ultimately to his appointment as the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

"They created the most open environment of any institution in America -- so don't tell me [such a government anti-discrimination program] doesn't work. It does work. Look at me."

He continued, "We are not there yet. We must not stop the second phase of Reconstruction."

Powell's comments echoed what has become a theme of the convention: saving affirmative action. In recent months, the policy has faced challenges nationwide, with Texas and California ending affirmative action in public college admissions and a court ordering an end to a blacks-only scholarship program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Cuomo noted nationwide examples of racial discrimination in housing -- from cross burnings to segregated apartment complexes -- to argue the merits of affirmative action. Although 72.1 percent of whites own homes, only 46 percent of African-Americans do, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data. The national average was 65.9 percent.

"Disproportionately, African-Americans do not share their part of the American dream," Cuomo said. "We do need affirmative action."

Action of a different sort was among the international issues raised late yesterday at the convention.

Susan Rice, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, joined ambassadors from Nigeria, Eritrea and Liberia who said black Americans have done little to build alliances with Africa.

"We need your help and the help of all members of the NAACP," Rice told the crowd of about 1,500 people. "We need your churches and your community. We need your help based on partnership, not paternalism."

The comments came as part of a meeting on the condition of Africa convened by the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization that itself has scarcely addressed Africa. This is the first such town meeting at the annual convention, and the NAACP does not have a staff member to address issues related to the African diaspora.

"We're attempting to be very pro-active on the issue of Africa," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said before the meeting. "This [meeting] is our first step."

The organization's board will consider taking official positions on such issues as famine in east Africa and slavery in the Sudan, Mfume said.

Mfume said NAACP leaders have, in the two years since he took the helm, been busy solving the organization's financial and structural problems. Only now, he said, are they in a position to address international issues.

"We don't want to put the cart before the horse," he said. "We'd like to do anything we can to bring about greater peace in Africa, but we don't suggest we have the wherewithal to make that happen."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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