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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Bush gets mixed reception from NAACP

President George W. Bush's reception after five years of shunning the NAACP was, at best, a mixed bag.

President George W. Bush’s reception after five years of shunning the NAACP was, at best, a mixed bag.

Writes Daryl Fears in The Washington Post

After shunning the NAACP for five years, President Bush made an effort yesterday to warm up their frosty relationship with a speech that mixed folksy humor, frank talk about political disagreements, and promises to build stronger ties between his administration and black America.

The 33-minute speech at the group’s annual convention drew rounds of thunderous applause, such as when the president acknowledged that his political party wrote off the black vote and when he vowed to sign a bill to renew the Voting Rights Act.

At other times, the audience groaned, such as when Bush said his family is committed to civil rights. People booed sharply when he praised charter schools. Two men were quickly hustled out of the hall by Secret Service agents for heckling Bush about the Iraq war.

Beginning his speech, Bush broke the ice, thanking NAACP President and chief executive Bruce S. Gordon for his introduction and cracking a joke. "I thought he was going to say, "It’s about time you showed up’ " at a convention, Bush said. "And I’m glad I did."

Bush touted programs that he said have the potential to help more black people gain economic success, including those that promote home ownership, faith-based community service, repeal of the estate tax and education reform. But much of the speech focused on glorifying achievements and framing goals.

"I’ve come to celebrate the heroism of the civil rights movement and the accomplishments of the NAACP," he said.

Slavery and segregation are "a stain we have not yet wiped clean," he said. Black founding fathers who believed in America in spite of discrimination and lynchings are too often overlooked, he said.

With the speech, Bush avoided becoming the first president since Warren G. Harding to snub the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization over his entire presidency. He thanked NAACP Chairman Julian Bond for inviting him, even though Bond once referred to the Republican far right as "the Taliban wing," a remark that helped fuel the estrangement between the group and the president.

Bush also thanked Gordon, who took charge of the NAACP last year from Kweisi Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland, and who had not played a role in the verbal sniping that led to the bad blood.

The feud started during the 2000 presidential race, when the NAACP ran television commercials featuring the daughter of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998, criticizing Bush’s failure as Texas governor to sign hate crime legislation. It was heightened when the NAACP charged that Republicans in Florida stole the 2000 election by intimidating black voters and turning them away from the polls.