HOUSTON — Louis Farrakhan and other black leaders sharply criticized the Bush administration here during a far-ranging seminar designed to discuss economic and political empowerment.
The government’s admitted failure to deal properly with Hurricane Katrina and its thousands of victims and the Iraq war were the main targets of the three dozen speakers at the daylong conference called the “State of the Black Union 2006.”
After criticizing the Bush administration for what he regards as ignoring the needs of the poor, Mr. Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, said the only way to accomplish real freedom and equality was to remove the president.
“What Katrina showed us is that we can’t depend on them,” he said.
Tavis Smiley, the Los Angeles-based talk-show host who organized the session, seemed to try to moderate Mr. Farrakhan’s remarks, saying that the group needs opinions of all elements of black society.
Mr. Smiley introduced a 254-page book called “The Covenant,” written by several well-known civil rights leaders and which the authors said they hoped would serve as a design for blacks to take a stronger role in public policy and politics.
The early days of the civil rights struggle were recounted by entertainer Harry Belafonte, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, retired president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but much of the dialogue related to how blacks must have “a national plan of action.”
“In the most multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic America ever, now is the time to make real the promises of our democracy,” Mr. Smiley said. “Now is the time — from health to housing, crime to criminal justice, education to economic parity — to transform these devastating disparities to hope and healing.
“Now is the time to stop talking about our pain and start talking about our plan.”
Wade Henderson, longtime leader of the American Civil Liberties Union and executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told the several thousands attending the conference that blacks had no future unless they became “empowered politically.”
He called for voting representation for the District in Congress and for legislation to allow paroled felons to vote “after they have paid their debt to society.” He added that if “you don’t vote, you are a traitor to your home people.”
Though many of the discussions focused on helping black Americans to better manage their financial affairs, raise their children and fight for better education, there was a definite tone of disdain directed toward Mr. Bush.
Mr. Farrakhan even criticized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is black.
“Condoleezza Rice doesn’t speak for us,” he said. “She speaks for Halliburton and George W. Bush.”