- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2004

President Bush has declined for the fourth consecutive year to address the annual NAACP convention, which begins Sunday in Philadelphia.

The president’s refusal to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has puzzled and angered leaders of the group, which has been critical of the president in the past.

“The truth of the matter is that he has turned us down four out of four times since he became president,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington office.

“We have 500,000 members across the United States as well as membership units in the military,” the director said. “It is a loud voice, and it seems to me that the president of an entire country would want to speak with that voice.”

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told the Wilmington (N.C.) Journal this week that “Mr. Bush has now distinguished himself as the first president since Warren Harding who has not met with the NAACP. So, we’ve got a 95-year history and a president that’s prepared to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and dominance, an era where dialogue is required, not distance.”

An NAACP spokesman said the president was sent an invitation in December. In a letter received by the NAACP late last month, Mr. Bush declined the invitation, cited conflicting engagements. Sen. John Kerry is confirmed to speak at the convention on Thursday.

The president’s only appearance before the group was at its 2000 convention in Baltimore, when he was the Republican presidential candidate.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that “we had other scheduling commitments at the time” of the convention.

The president, though, has other reasons for dismissing the NAACP. Sources said yesterday that Mr. Bush reportedly was “personally hurt” by an ad run by a group loosely connected to the NAACP during the 2000 presidential contest, portraying him as unsympathetic to James Byrd, the black Texan who was dragged to his death by three white men.

Furthermore, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said last year at the group’s convention that Republicans appeal “to the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality.”

The NAACP has, over the years, been accused by conservatives of openly pursuing a liberal agenda.

Still, Mr. Bush, who received 8 percent of the nation’s black vote in 2000, has little to lose by appearing at the convention.

“From our perspective, it is always good for the president to appear before all groups to articulate his continued vision for the country,” said Alvin Williams, president of the conservative Black America’s Political Action Committee. “But I think he does feel offended by the 2000 presidential campaign, when some very nasty things were alleged about him.”

Also slated to appear at the convention is Bill Cosby, who has sparked debate with his recent public statements regarding irresponsibility in some segments of the black community. He is scheduled to perform at an event billed as a “comedy show” on Tuesday night.

“Those who want to hear the truth will come to see him,” said James M. Kilby, former president of an NAACP chapter in Warren and Page counties in Virginia. “I think he will play well there.”

In May, Mr. Cosby told people gathered at an NAACP event in Washington that “lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids — $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics?’”

Last week, appearing at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s annual Rainbow/PUSH conference in Chicago, Mr. Cosby told the audience that “you’ve got to stop beating up your women because you can’t find a job because you didn’t want to get an education and now you’re [earning] minimum wage.”

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