NAACP Chairman Julian Bond delivers opening address at NAACP Centennial Meeting in New York this week. He is also set to receive the Spingarn Award this year for his civil rights contributions. (Courtesy/NAACP)
NEW YORK - NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, speaking before thousands at the NAACP Centennial meeting in New York City this week, issued a stern rebuke of those who advocate the elimination of historic civil rights laws and groups just because America has its first African-American president.
“A group representing a utility district in Texas tried to get the United States Supreme Court to gut the jewel of civil rights law – the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The challengers opened their brief to the Court by declaring: 'The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965’,” he quoted.
“In other words, because Barack Obama won the presidency, we can now dismantle the civil rights protections and organizations that made it possible,” said Bond. “Would they have made the same argument after World War II – that because the United States won, we could dismantle the military?”
The hard-fought battle for the first African-American president has caused some people to advocate for an end to the NAACP, now 100 years old. Arguing that this is now a “post racial” society, they say there is no need for such organizations. For example, Justice Clarence Thomas – the only African-American person on the Supreme Court – voted to uphold that challenge against key clauses of the Voting Rights Act. But he was the only member of the court to dissent.
Bond, who was set to receive the NAACP's coveted Spingarn Award Thursday, points out that the very existence of the NAACP 100 years later with a civil rights and racial justice agenda that is just as full as decades ago is proof of racial progress that has yet to be made.
“The centrality of race in American history makes it impossible to overstate the significance of Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States,” said Bond. “But that is also why his victory does not herald a post-civil rights America or mean that race as an issue has been vanquished. It will not end structural inequality or eliminate racist attitudes. Those who argue otherwise are engaged in sophistry of the highest order.”
Bond implied that such attitudes seem reserved for laws and organizations in place to maintain African-American progress.
“We don’t hear calls for the elimination of the Anti-Defamation League because a Jewish woman sits on the Supreme Court or because a Jewish man is White House Chief of Staff. We don’t hear calls for the elimination of the National Organization for Women because a woman is Speaker of the House of Representatives and another is Secretary of State. We don’t hear calls for the elimination of the National Council of La Raza because a Latina is Secretary of Labor and another is poised to become a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”
President Obama was scheduled to speak to the NAACP on Thursday at the annual Spingard Awards Dinner. It is a long held tradition by a sitting president of the United States to address the non-partisan organization.
This year is starkly different from the past eight years as Bond almost consistently rendered scathing words for President George W. Bush, who boycotted all but one NAACP meeting. In speeches before this convention, Bond compared Bush's conservative policies to everything from “snake oil” to “the Taliban wing of American politics.”
This year was a complete reverse. That's not only because the Obama policy agenda is more liberal and sensitive to Black progress, but because this historic moment for the NAACP has aligned itself with the historic significance of the Obama presidency, forming a powerful kinship.
“It is fitting he was sworn in almost exactly 100 years after the founding of the NAACP. Just as Obama launched his candidacy for the presidency in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, so the NAACP issued a call to the nation on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1909,” Bond recounted.
The goals listed on the original incorporation papers of the NAACP have not changed, Bond says:
“To promote equality of rights and eradicate caste or racial prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for their children, and complete equality before the law… That has remained our mission until today.”
(Hazel Trice Edney is NNPA Editor-in-Chief.)