NAACP leader castigates Bush

President faulted on Iraq, civil rights, 2000 election

July 12, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Civil rights pioneer and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond continued to express the civil rights organization's frustration with President Bush yesterday, delivering a stinging criticism of his administration's policies from civil rights to the war in Iraq while lamenting the 2000 election debacle as an "outright theft of black votes."

Bond's remarks follow the chiding of Bush by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume as the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the group.

Bush declined an invitation to speak at the event, while the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is scheduled to speak here Thursday.

"The differences between the candidates this year are neither incremental nor inconsequential," Bond told an audience of several thousand at the opening mass meeting of the 95th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"The stakes are high, higher than ever in recent memory, and the consequences of loss are almost too dire to bear. Fortunately, the race is on," Bond said of the presidential election - and the theme of the convention.

Bond's speech called passionately for the approximately 8,000 NAACP delegates to renew their commitment to voting rights and civil rights concerns.

His remarks, eliciting standing ovations at times and laughter at others, took the audience at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on a history lesson of civil rights punctuated with statistics such as a black unemployment rate double that of whites'.

He recounted the gains and setbacks since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education a half-century ago ending school segregation, and spoke of the civil rights legacies - good and bad, but mostly the latter - since Herbert Hoover.

While he prefaced his remarks with a reminder that the nation's oldest civil rights group is nonpartisan, Bond was clearly speaking to the choir with his biting comments about Bush, since NAACP members - and African-Americans nationwide - vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

"Bush chose Martin Luther King's birthday last year to announce that, even though he admitted society continues to do something special against racial minorities, his administration would not do anything special for them," Bond said.

"Bush chose Martin Luther King's birthday this year to unilaterally elevate Charles Pickering to the federal bench in the face of Pickering's hostility to civil rights and leniency to cross-burners," Bond said.

"I was afraid to listen to Bush's speech at the Brown v. Board commemoration in Topeka two months ago - I was afraid he'd announce he was going to repeal the 14th Amendment."

Bond blamed Republicans since the 1960s for preaching racial divisiveness in elections.

"By playing the race card in election after election, they've appealed to the dark underside of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," he said.

Bond also took a shot at Democrats, when he said: "And the other party? Too often they're not an opposition; they're an amen corner. ... With some notable exceptions, they have been absent without leave from this battle for America's soul. When one party is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless."

With a compliment for Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and a lament over the current debate over the names listed on Florida's voter purge rolls, Bond made it clear that the most important focus of the NAACP convention is voting rights.

He recounted the NAACP hearings after the 2000 election, in which he said witnesses recounted police halting people near polling places, demands for multiple forms of identification and names missing from voter rolls - in many instances in predominantly black precincts.

"Our response must be determination - to flood the polls and cast our votes in such large numbers that there will be no doubt," Bond said.

Cynthia Slater, an NAACP delegate from Daytona Beach, Fla., said Bond's speech affirmed her work registering voters and getting the word out on Election Day.

"We all know this is a big year, especially in Florida," she said. "We just have to make sure our votes are counted."

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