NAACP's Mfume, Armey to seek dialogue

Bond's comments on Bush administration spur anger, invitation

March 04, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

House Majority Leader Dick Armey and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington after NAACP leaders recently accused President Bush of dividing the country.

At the NAACP's annual meeting in Washington last month, Board of Directors Chairman Julian Bond held no punches, saying, "They [the Bush administration] selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chose Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." Mfume said leaders were "concerned, but not shocked" over actions taken by Bush since he took office in January.

After reading those comments in The Sun, Armey sent a letter to Mfume, accusing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of "racial McCarthyism or reverse race-baiting."

In his letter, dated Feb. 22, Armey said NAACP leaders were guilty of what he called an "all too common practice to spread unfounded, racially charged falsehoods against Republicans for political advantage."

Armey's letter also said he would be willing to meet with Mfume to discuss "education, economics, hate crimes and racial profiling," issues Mfume said are important to the NAACP.

Armey addressed his letter to Mfume because the NAACP president said at the civil rights group's annual meeting that he wanted to meet with Armey, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft - whose nomination was strongly opposed by the NAACP and other civil rights groups.

Mfume, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, responded to Armey's letter: "I'm sure that we could agree that there is enough blame to be placed on both sides, but the real question is, where do we go from here?

"How do we get beyond the last election in order to build a more perfect union, and when will dialogue replace demagoguery on the issue of race in our nation? Like you, I know that all Republicans are not racists or bigots, and neither are all Democrats saints or saviors," Mfume said in his letter.

Mfume reiterated issues of importance to all Americans, including national security, and said, "Although on some of these issues we may have principled differences, there is no reason for us to have permanent disengagement."

Mfume said he hopes a better relationship between the NAACP and the Republican Party can be fostered. "I equally look forward ... to sitting down with you at your request to start a similar discussion aimed also at turning down the rhetoric and laying the groundwork for a different type of coexistence and cooperation between the NAACP and the Republican Party," he wrote.

Responding to Armey's accusations, Bond has said the NAACP will not be silenced. He was elected last month to a fourth yearlong term as its chairman of the board.

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