CINCINNATI — Racial disparity will remain an issue in America, regardless of whether Barack Obama is elected as the nation’s first black president, the chairman of the NAACP told the organization’s national convention Sunday night.
Julian Bond, a veteran civil rights leader, said Obama’s candidacy doesn’t “herald a post-civil rights America, any more than his victory in November will mean that race as an issue has been vanquished in America.”
But he drew loud applause when he said the country, and “all of us here,” are taking pride in the success in this year’s campaign by a candidate who couldn’t have stayed in some cities’ hotels a few decades ago.
“We know that Obama’s electoral success — even if he should win the ultimate prize — won’t signal an end to racial discrimination, but it does mark the high point of an interracial movement that dates back to the Underground Railroad,” Bond said, referring to Cincinnati’s historical role in helping fleeing slaves reach freedom.
Obama addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s convention Monday night. Republican presidential candidate John McCain planned to speak Wednesday.
Bond was sharply critical of the Bush administration, saying it has undermined constitutional rights, failed to oppose racial discrimination, supported voter identification laws that suppress black voters and thrived on “politics of divide and conquer.”
He noted that a 2004 speech in which he criticized President Bush led to an IRS review of the NAACP’s tax-exempt status. Political campaigning is prohibited under the NAACP’s tax-exempt status, and the IRS investigation focused on whether the speech was too political.
“The NAACP will continue to speak truth to power until this administration leaves town,” he said Sunday night.
A White House spokesman referred a request for comment to a Justice Department spokesman.
“One of the highest priorities of the Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division is to protect voting rights and enforce specific federal laws that help to ensure that all qualified voters have an opportunity to cast their ballots and have them counted,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
Bond detailed racial failures by past presidents of both parties, then took a verbal swing at former President Bill Clinton, who made critical comments about Obama while campaigning for his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton during Democratic primaries.
“We fared much better under the man who liked to be called ‘the first black president,’ but then we watched him try to bring down the man who would be the real first black president,” Bond said.
Obama recently called Clinton, and the former president has offered to campaign for him.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was scheduled to speak at the event earlier Sunday, was unable to fly to Cincinnati because of bad weather. Instead, his deputy mayor, Linda Gibbs, told the convention about New York City’s alternative to federal guidelines that determine who is living below the poverty line.