Chairman Julian Bond's Address to 97th NAACP ConventionJuly 15, 2006
To CEO, Vice Chair Roslyn Brock, Board Member Rev. Morris Shearin, President Emeritus Rupert Richardson, other members of the Board of Directors and SCF Trustees, DC Branch President Lorraine Miller, NAACP staff, NAACP members, friends and guests, welcome to Washington, DC.
Our host city is the home of the most powerful people in the United States and the most powerless. You know who the most powerful are. We citizens of this great city are the most powerless, without voting representation in Congress. Those who are trying to export democracy abroad ought to be as interested in expanding democracy here at home, starting with voting rights for the District of Columbia.
Thank heavens we are meeting here this year and not in Indiana. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you see, Indiana has more terrorist targets - 8,591 - than any other place in the nation. Here in Washington, by contrast, there are only 416, making DC among the nation's safest places. Of course the Homeland Security Department's list of terrorist targets includes Old McDonald's Petting Zoo in Woodville, Alabama, Sweetwater Flea Market near Knoxville, and the Amish County Popcorn Factory in Berne, Indiana, so its reliability is a bit questionable.
You might recall that during last year's convention, I extended an invitation to President Bush to come to this year's convention. In 2005, for the fifth straight year, he had declined to appear before us, citing scheduling conflicts. That was true - he had spent the previous weeks scheduling conflicts.[i]
Recently, I had occasion to talk briefly with the President at a reception before the White House Correspondents dinner here in Washington in late April. After singing Happy Birthday to one of the guests, the President, who was standing next to me, asked, "Julian, how old are you?"I'm sixty-six", I said. "I used to be too young to be president; now I'm too old."
"You're not too old", the President said. "John McCain is 70."
I replied, "I guess I'll ask John McCain if I can be his Vice-President."
"No", the President said. "A confident man would ask John McCain to be his Vice-President."
Feeling confident, I then took the opportunity to invite the President to this convention, reminding him that when he last appeared before us, as candidate Bush, we treated him well, and promising, if he finally chose to come as President, we would treat him well again. He made a sound, which at the time I took to mean either "I'll think about it" or "not in your lifetime."
We now know it was the former. This year the convention has come to the President - and the President, we hope, is coming to it.
The President surely knows that seeking black votes while simultaneously ignoring the nation's largest civil rights organization is contradictory.
We are delighted that the President may be coming - we think he's doing a heck of job.
You should know as we begin our week in Washington that a different language is spoken here, a sort of Orwellian code.
"Bi-partisanship," for example, in Washington means "when the other side caves in." "Spreading peace" means "pre-emptive war." "Staying the course" means "to relentlessly pursue a disastrous policy regardless of the consequences." "Compassionate conservatism" translates into "tax cuts for the rich." "Endangered species in need of government protection" are "the rich people's families who inherit mega estates."
"Activist judges" are "jurists who do not belong to the Federalist Society." "Non-partisan judicial appointees" are "jurists who do belong to the Federalist Society." "Faith-based initiative" means "passing out money and saying 'trust me'".
"Moral values" equate to "keeping homosexual illegal immigrants from burning flags." And "racial discrimination", of course, is "a problem of the past which no longer exists."
Those who say that "race is history" have it exactly backward - history is race. America, scrambled, after all, spells "I am race."
And America is race - from its symbolism to its substance, from its founding by slaveholders to its rending by civil war, from Johnnie Reb to Jim Crow, from the Ku Klux Klan to Katrina.
Those who engage in declarations and denials to the contrary do not serve our country well.
For example, late last summer the Justice Department conducted a study of racial profiling, which President Bush had vowed to end in America. In the news release describing the study, the administration tried to eliminate any reference to the racial disparities the study found. When the person responsible for the study balked at this, he was removed from his job.[ii]
Apparently, the way to end racial profiling is to deny it exists.
Expressing his opposition to extension of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. John Carter (R-TX) recently told the Houston Chronicle, a week before the United States Supreme Court ruled that Texas had violated the Act, "I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore."[iii]
Tell that to James Byrd's survivors. Square that with Texas having the second highest number of Justice Department objections to discriminatory voting changes since 1982.
Remember Texas threatening students from Prairie View University in 2003 with ten years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine if they dared to vote in their college town? It took an NAACP lawsuit and the Voting Rights Act to put a stop to that.
Recently the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving the use of race in pupil placement in public schools, posing the most recent threat to the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. One case is from Louisville, "one of the most thoroughly integrated urban school systems in the country."[iv]
The lawyer representing the white plaintiff in the case readily admits that, if the court overturns Louisville's student assignment plan, the schools would rapidly re-segregate. But that, he says, should not be of concern - "We're a diverse society . a colorblind society. Race is history," he declares. [v]
In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded that "white racism" was the single most important cause of continued racial inequality in income, housing, employment, education and life chances between blacks and whites.
But by the middle 1970s, the growing numbers of blacks pressing into traditionally white institutions created a backlash in the discourse about race.
Opinion leaders - both inside and outside government - began to reformulate the terms of the discussion. No longer was the Kerner Commission's finding acceptable. Instead, black behavior became the reason why blacks and whites live in separate worlds. Racism retreated and pathology advanced, and the burden of racial problem solving shifted from racism's perpetrators to its victims.
The failure of the lesser breeds to enjoy society's fruits became their fault alone. Thus pressure for additional, stronger civil rights laws became special pleading. America's most privileged population - white men - suddenly became a victim class. Aggressive and insatiable blacks were responsible for America's demise.
The cause of racial inequality migrated from bigotry and discrimination to individual and group misbehavior, equating race with deficiency.
But present day inequality and racial disparities are cumulative. They are the result of racial advantages compounded over time - and they "produce racialized patterns of accumulation and dis-accumulation. As a result, racial inequality is imbedded into the fabric of post-civil rights movement American society."[vi]
Another front against racial justice was opened in the same period and has gained strength and power ever since. Often led by scholars and academicians and funded by corporate America, this movement aimed at removing government regulation from every aspect of life and found a handy, hated target in civil rights.
Speaking of an earlier set of apologists in 1903, NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois might have been talking to us today. They came to the forefront, he wrote then "at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and as concentrating its energies on dollars."[vii]
Today's apologists argue that discrimination against minorities is not a problem; society has to protect itself from discrimination against the majority instead.
They argue that America is color blind, despite a recent national survey which reported that the majority of whites believe blacks and Hispanics prefer welfare to work, are lazier, more prone to violence, less intelligent and less patriotic.
It might have been proper yesterday, they maintain, to aim big guns at racism, at segregated jobs, schools and ballot boxes. The ills we face today, they say, are crime, teen-age pregnancy, welfare dependency and family disintegration. These call, they claim, for new approaches and abandoning government's help.
To this, we in the NAACP would point to our own past and present record and methodology of removing racial barriers to equal jobs, housing and education as a necessary precondition for solving racism's legacy - poverty, crime and poor education. And we would argue that both our national programs and our 2,000 local units are engaged daily in activities aimed at helping black America to help it. But we would insist that government must do its part in removing obstacles that government created.
The history of racial struggle in America is a hymn to self-help and an acknowledgement that white Americans will not and cannot voluntarily end discrimination.
Brown v. Board of Education was our movement's greatest legal victory. As Richard Kluger has written:
"Not until the Supreme Court acted in 1954 did the nation acknowledge it had been blaming the black man for what it had done to him. His sentence to second class citizenship had been commuted; the quest for meaningful equality - equality in fact as well as in law - had begun."[viii]
Five decades later, the principle of Brown remains paramount, even as "equality in fact" remains elusive. Racially-integrated schools improve the critical thinking of all students, advance race relations in the community, and promote tolerance and other positive values in coming generations. Today white students remain the most racially isolated group, while blacks are left behind to attend inferior schools. Nine out of ten intensely segregated minority schools are concentrated poverty schools. There are almost no schools that are extremely poor with a very high level of achievement. [ix] Martin Luther King Jr. was obviously right when he said in 1963, "[W]e must come to see that de facto segregation in the North is just as injurious as the actual segregation in the South."
That is why the NAACP has filed suit in federal court challenging a Nebraska law that created three Omaha school districts - one white, one black, and one Latino. Not only does this legislation flout Brown's abiding principle, it also denies the abiding reality - separate schools are not equal.
I believe in an integrated America - jobs, homes, and schools. I believe in it enough to have spent most of my life in its pursuit. I think it is a legal, moral and political imperative for America - a matter of elemental justice, simple right waged against historical wrong.
I not only have spent most of my life in the cause of integration, in 1947 - when I was seven years old - I was a plaintiff in a lawsuit in rural Pennsylvania against segregated schools.
It never came to trial. The school board had segregated schools by giving students achievement tests which all blacks failed and all whites passed, but when the two sons of the local white political boss failed the test, they closed the black school, and all of Lincoln University Village's children went to a one-room school together.
Recently I visited Berea College in Kentucky, opened by abolitionists as an integrated school in 1855. It was closed by the Civil War, but opened again in 1866 with 187 students - 96 blacks and 91 whites. It dared to provide a rare commodity in the former slave states ? an education open to all - blacks and whites, women and men.
One of those early students was my grandfather, James Bond. Like many others, I am the grandson of a slave. My grandfather was born in 1863, in Kentucky; freedom didn't come for him until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865.
He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair. As a young girl, she had been given away as a wedding present to a new bride, and when that bride became pregnant, her husband - that's my great-grandmother's owner and master - exercised his right to take his wife's slave as his mistress.
That union produced two children, one of them my grandfather.
At age 15, barely able to read and write, he hitched his tuition - a steer - to a rope and walked across Kentucky to Berea College and the college took him in.
My grandfather belonged to a transcendent generation of black Americans, a generation born into slavery, freed by the Civil War, determined to make their way as free women and men.
Martin Luther King belonged to another transcendent generation of black Americans, a generation born into segregation, freed from racism's constraints by their own efforts, determined to make their way in freedom
That the quest for meaningful equality - political and economic equity - remains unfulfilled today is no indictment of past efforts. It is testament to our challenge.
When my grandfather graduated from Berea, in 1892, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address.
He said then:
"The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin, and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future."
"In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightning an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe."
"He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories."[x]
'Greater efforts and grander victories.' That was the promise made by the generation born in slavery more than 140 years ago. That was the promise made by the generation that won the great world war for democracy six decades ago. That was the promise made by those who brought democracy to America's darkest corners four decades ago, and that is the promise we must all seek to honor today.
In honoring that promise, we remember what Dr. King said when he confronted the Vietnam war: "Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war.[But] we must speak . [and we must] move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high ground of a firm dissent based upon the mandates and the reading of history."
So speak we will. Oppose we must.
Recent events only serve to underscore how the war in Iraq has weakened, rather than strengthened, America's defenses, including our levees.
The war has as much to do with terrorism as the administration has to do with compassion.
Early on, they decided to use 9/11 as an excuse to disobey the rules, including the Geneva Conventions and the United States Constitution.
This war isn't just about torture; it's about tortured lies. The problem isn't that we cannot prosecute a war in the Persian Gulf and protect our citizens on the Gulf Coast here at home. The problem is that we cannot do either one.
They know all about 'cut and run'. That's what they do ? cut taxes for the rich and run the country into the ground. They have continued an assault on our civil liberties and civil rights, orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, increased poverty every year they've been in office, created dangerous deficits, substituted religion for science, ignored global warming, wrecked environmental protections.
We pay starkly for this folly - not just in monies spent and lives lost abroad, but in monies not spent and lives lost here at home.
They used 9/11 as an excuse to wage war in Iraq. Then they used the hurricane as an excuse to wash away decent pay for workers and fairness for minority and women-owned businesses. They are turning the recovery over to the same no-bid corporate looters who are profiting from the misery of Iraq.
They boasted they wanted to make the government so small it would drown in a bathtub - and in New Orleans, it did.
But Katrina and its aftermath forced President Bush to go on television and acknowledge the "deep, persistent poverty" which exists in our country. "That poverty," the President said, "has its roots in a history of racial discrimination."[xi]
We agree with the President; we believe many of our problems, old ones and new ones, have their root in race and racial discrimination.
So when I am asked why the NAACP doesn't focus on social service, and why we don't surrender to the great tutorial instinct so prominent among blacks in the middle class, the urge to instruct our less fortunate brothers and sisters and their children in the proper way of doing things, of saving, of learning and speaking, I respond that we are an organization that fights racial discrimination. There are thousands of organizations in America which deliver social service, and properly so. The NAACP is one of very few which concentrates on social justice. We believe that racial discrimination is a prime reason why the divide between black and white life chances remains so deep. And we believe that to the degree we are able to reduce discrimination and close these race-caused gaps, we will see the economic and educational lives of our people improve and their prosperity increase. We believe that when our people have social justice, they will need fewer social services.
There could be no better time and no better place to have chosen as our theme "Voting Our Values, Valuing Our Votes."
After the last election, a new phrase entered the political lexicon, "values voters", used proudly by social conservatives. No less an authority than columnist George Will said the phrase:" is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots."[xii]
We couldn't agree more. We are here to say: we have values, we vote our values, and we demand to be valued in return!
We value tolerance. We value inclusion. Justice. Equality. Respect for difference. We value stewardship of the land, air and water. We value concern for the poor and disadvantaged.
Again, Martin Luther King speaks to us:
"[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. . . When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
Today, 37 million Americans live in poverty. They represent about 13 percent of the population - the highest percentage in the developed world. Their number has grown since 2001, with 5.4 million people having slipped below the poverty line during the Bush Administration.
Most of America's poor are not lazy or listless. They aren't even unemployed. Most have jobs. Many have two. But they don't have health insurance.
Even families with two working parents are often one step away from financial catastrophe. The minimum wage, which is $5.15 an hour, has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956.
What do the powers-that-be value? They would rather provide minimum taxes for the wealthy than a higher minimum wage for the workers.
And so the gap grows between the haves and the have-nots. The top 20 percent of earners take over half the national income, while the bottom 20 percent gets just 3.4 percent. Black Americans, of course, are more likely to be among the bottom-earners than the top. Almost a quarter of Black Americans live below the poverty line as compared to only 8.6 percent of whites.
What do the powers-that-be value?
We have a President who had to be told he was subject to the rule of law, but at least the Supreme Court was up to the task. Two weeks ago, the Court rejected the President's plan for trying detainees at Guantanamo, saying "the executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction."
The President's approach to the detainees is part of one of the broadest efforts to expand Presidential power in all of American history. Rather than demonstrating a belief in the rule of law, President Bush has claimed the authority to disobey the law.
Some of the results - torturing detainees, spying on Americans, are notorious; others are hardly acknowledged. One reason this President is the first in modern history who has never vetoed a bill is because, after publicly signing a bill, he quietly files a "signing statement" - where he asserts the right not to follow the new law he has just signed.[xiii]
This has happened more than 750 times. Among the laws the President has said he could ignore are military rules and regulations, "whistle-blower" protections, safeguards against political interference in federally funded research, and affirmative action requirements. At least nine times he has disagreed with provisions seeking to ensure that minorities receive government jobs, contracts, and grants.
Our history as a nation and our long dedication to the rule of law must cause all Americans to disagree with the President's arrogation of power and disregard of our laws in secretly assuming powers he does not have.
We had wondered - if the President has inherent authority, not sanctioned by law or court ruling, to eavesdrop, to kidnap and torture, to detain indefinitely, what is it he cannot do?
Now we are grateful that the Supreme Court has ruled that there are things the President cannot do, there are powers he does not have. But only five Justices subscribed to this view, reminding us once again of the value of one vote.
And then there's Congress. The House leadership has never seen an ethics rule it liked. Can we have an ethical house without delay? And in the Senate they pander to patriotism while the true patriots are dying needlessly thousands of miles from home.
One party marches in lockstep while the other does the two-step two steps forward and two steps back. The Democrats won't take their own side in a fight.
Washington is awash in corruption. The pursuit of power and private gain too often trumps the public good. Government of, by and for the privileged is the antithesis of government of, by and for the people.
What can "we the people" do? We can use our own "earmarks." We can "earmark" for defeat those who are not worthy of serving as our political leaders. We must show that we value our vote.
We meet on the anniversary of the day - July 16th, 1790 ? that Washington, DC, was established as the permanent seat of the United States government. Yet the capital of the nation is its last plantation. The residents of this majority black city, including its women and men fighting and dying for democratic rights for Iraqis, are denied voting representation in the Congress and full self government.
For more than 50 years, dating from our 46th Convention, the NAACP has called for full democracy for the District. Last year at our 96th Convention in Milwaukee, we reaffirmed our support for full voting representation for DC residents. Meanwhile, members of Congress continue to substitute their wacky whims for the will of the citizens of our nation's capital. They can and do force un-requested and unwanted laws, policies, and budgets on DC, overturning laws and polices enacted by District voters and our City Council.
If Congress really cared about the nation's black citizens, it would leave DC alone and vote to renew the Voting Rights Act. It is generally agreed to be the most effective civil rights law ever passed, protecting what the late President Ronald Reagan called "the crown jewel" of our democracy.[xiv]
Three key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire next year without congressional reauthorization. One is that part which allows federal observers to go to certain jurisdictions where there is evidence of intimidation of minority voters. Another is the section which provides bilingual assistance to voters - voters who are, by definition, citizens.
Third, and most important, is Section 5, which requires "pre-clearance" of changes and procedures in covered jurisdictions. These include redistricting, annexation, at-large elections, polling place changes, and new rules for candidate qualifying - all of which can be and have been used to discriminate.
A bi-partisan congressional report in 1982 warned that without Section 5, discrimination would reappear "overnight." Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush 1 all believed these sections should remain law.
On May 2nd, a bi-partisan and bi-cameral collection of Congressional leaders stood on the Capitol steps to announce they would vote to renew the Act this year rather than waiting for until its expiration next year. The President said he was for renewal. [xv]
Less than two months later, on June 21st, the vote to renew in the House was derailed "after rank-and-file Republicans revolted over [the] provisions that require bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in Southern states.[xvi]
Leading this train wreck was Representative Lynn Westmoreland from my former home state of Georgia. This Wednesday is lobbying day, when convention delegates will pay a visit to their members of Congress. I dare say Representative Westmoreland might be on our list.
Opponents have the temerity to suggest that the Voting Rights Act is no longer necessary. As volumes of testimony submitted to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees prove abuse of the election process continues. The progress that has been made in black political participation attests not to the Act's superfluousness, but rather to its effectiveness.
The Voting Rights Act initially focused on six states where blacks had been systematically denied the right to vote - Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. Three more states - Arizona, Texas, and Alaska - were added ten years later to protect language minorities. Rep. Westmoreland and other diehard radical extremists are indignant that that Act only covers certain states. "The pre-clearance portions of the Voting Rights Act should apply to all states, or no states," Westmoreland argues. "Singling out certain states for special scrutiny no longer makes sense."
But these states got their "special scrutiny" the old-fashioned way - they earned it. "All states" don't have the history of the six originally covered by the Act, including Westmoreland's Georgia. As he knows full well, applying Section 5 to all 50 states likely would make the Act unconstitutional, no doubt the outcome he wants.
It now looks like that will not be the outcome he gets. Three days ago, on Thursday last, the House took up renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Although the diehards, reactionaries and nativists introduced amendments which would have profoundly weakened if not destroyed the Act, they were beaten back. Under the staunch leadership of Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R- WI), John Conyers (D-MI) and Mel Watt (D-NC), the House now has voted to renew the Voting Rights Act without any damaging amendments.
The Senate is to begin consideration of the Act's renewal this week. And we will be vigilant in watching what they do.
Black Americans fought and died to force their way into the political process and to erect an effective federal apparatus to protect their continued participation in that process.
No American - black, brown or white - can afford to have that right destroyed or its protections relaxed because of the shallow protestations of present-day apologists for yesterday's status quo.
Since the Voting Rights Act was last renewed in 1982, the Department of Justice has objected 80 times to proposed changes in Georgia voting laws, finding them to be discriminatory. Recently, only the Department of Justice's political appointees saved a biased Georgia voter identification law over the objections of career Justice lawyers. When the NAACP sued, a federal court struck the law down, whereupon Georgia passed a substitute which was again "pre-cleared" by Justice's political appointees and again blocked in court, this time both state and federal.
One of these political appointees is former Georgian Hans A. von Spakovsky. We may not recognize his name, but we know him by his deeds. He was the impetus behind the notorious 2000 purge of Florida voters, many of them black. You know the result. The result for him was a high-ranking post in the Department of Justice's Voting Rights Section. Recently, President Bush gave him a recess appointment to the Federal Elections Commission.
So the campaign to suppress the minority vote continues ? in places high and low, federal and state. We might call it voting while black. Some of us, of course, are barred from voting altogether. We no longer confront poll taxes and literacy tests, but we still have felony disenfranchisement.
Although blacks are roughly 13 percent of monthly users of illegal drugs, blacks are 30 percent of drug arrests, 53 percent of drug convictions, and a staggering 67 percent of the people imprisoned for drug offenses.
"Because of the explosion of incarceration driven by drug prohibition, more than 5 million people are now barred from voting."[xvii]
We are the only industrial democracy that does this. As a result, in the states of the Deep South, almost one-third of all black men are barred from voting because of felony convictions, some of them permanently.
We only need look at Florida in 2000 to see what this means. There, 200,000 blacks were barred from voting because of prior felonies. If as few as one-third of them had cast votes, in the proportion that blacks usually vote Democratic, Al Gore would have won Florida by 42,000 votes.
The stakes could not be higher, so voters they cannot bar, they try to suppress.
In 2004, the NAACP and People for the American Way (PFAW) documented the long history of efforts to keep minorities from casting votes. [xviii]
They posted armed guards and real and make-believe police officers at the polls. They told black voters they could cast votes on alternative days, even after the actual election was over. They demanded forms of identification not required by law. They told voters outstanding warrants or utility bills would prevent them from voting. They said immigration officials would haunt the polls, checking on voters' immigration status. They constructed phony purge lists which included names of long-time legitimate voters. They loosed the FBI and State Police on elderly voters. They set up so-called "ballot security" and "ballot integrity" programs, based on the racist and unfounded presumption that minority voters are inveterate election-day cheaters, and they harassed and intimidated those voters at will.
As we approach this year's mid-term elections, these efforts are again rampant. If they're this afraid of our votes, those votes must be really valuable to someone. We vow to protect this precious power.
Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we must fight to make our democracy secure at home.
This is a war, friends, and we are on the front lines. Their weapons of choice this year are discouraging and criminalizing registration drives, purging eligible voters, and imposing unreasonable identification requirements.
They claim these are anti-fraud measures. They spell fraud N-E-G-R-O. Any party that attacks my right to vote isn't interested in winning my vote.
In Florida, they're at it again. The legislature passed a law in January seemingly aimed at making voter registration by nonprofit organizations impossible. The law imposes onerous fines and penalties if voter registration forms are turned in late, for any reason, even a hurricane or other event beyond anyone's control.
"Since registration drives are particularly important for bringing poor people, minority groups and less educated voters into the process, the law appears to be designed to keep such people from voting."[xix]
The latest such measure comes from Ohio, the Florida of the 2004 election, where election rules are issued by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Clarence Thomas of state elected officials. Blackwell has implemented new rules making some legitimate voter registration activities punishable as crimes.
If you manage to register, you might still be purged from voting lists, even - or maybe especially - if you are black and serving in the armed forces. A GOP purge in 2004 targeted black service men and women overseas, identifying them as registering to vote from false addresses when letters sent to their home addresses intentionally marked "do not forward" were then returned as "undeliverable." They even make war on our soldiers' rights. Iraqi citizens living in the United States could vote in their elections; some Americans fighting in Iraq could not vote in theirs.
Georgia is only one of many states enacting or contemplating restrictive voter ID laws. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed, for the first time ever, a federal ID requirement. It was rejected, but could be re-introduced.
Like the flag-burning amendment, these partisan voter ID laws are a dangerous solution to a non-existent problem. Proponents claim they seek to prevent fraud, but they really only serve to prevent voting - by people of color, low-income people, the elderly and others for whom the ID requirement poses a special hindrance.
It is our job, as the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, to agitate, associate, and advocate for equal treatment of all citizens of the United States. Our history shows we are ready for the challenge.
It was fifty years ago this summer that Alabama barred the NAACP from operating in the state. This came on the heels of Brown I and II and of Authurine Lucy's attempt, after a lengthy battle fought by the NAACP, to become the first black student to attend the University of Alabama.
Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia all passed laws aimed at curtailing our presence. Florida established a legislative committee to investigate us.
The NAACP fought back. In Alabama, we faced an ex parte restraining order barring us from conducting any business in the state and a contempt citation for refusing to turn over our membership lists. It would take four trips to the United States Supreme Court until the Court decided in 1964:
"This case, in truth, involves not the privilege of a corporation to do business in a state, but rather the freedom of individuals to associate for the collective advocacy of ideas. 'Freedoms such as [this] are protected not only against heavy-handed frontal attack, but also from being stifled by more subtle governmental interference.'"[xx]
It was NAACP lawyer and native Alabamian Fred Gray who, sometimes single-handedly, carried this case and many more to court - and carried us to freedom. Attorney Gray will receive our William Robert Ming Award for his 51 years of service to justice tomorrow. Stand up, Fred, and let this convention thank you!
We've been 'buked and we've been scorned; we've been talked about sure as you're born - most recently by the IRS.
Whether the IRS audit is considered to be "a heavy-handed frontal attack" or "more subtle governmental interference," we will fight back.
You will recall that the IRS threatened to revoke our tax-exempt status because they said in my speech at our 2004 convention, I criticized administration policies. As part of our defense against the threatened action, we submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn why the audit was commenced.
We now know that prior to 2004, complaints were filed with the IRS about our tax-exempt status by certain members of Congress, all members of the same political party: Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine and then-Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Representatives Jo Ann Davis of Virginia and Larry Combest of Texas and then Representatives Joe Scarborough of Florida (now a right-wing television talking head) and Maryland's Robert Ehrlich. Now, as Governor of Maryland, Ehrlich recently vetoed early voting legislation and then led a petition drive against the veto override which fell 138 signatures short.
It is unclear what role, if any, these letters played in prompting the IRS audit. It is also unclear what will happen next. The IRS has not contacted us for over a year.
In addition to marking the 50th anniversary of our shutdown by the state of Alabama, we observe a happier milestone this year: the 70th anniversary of the NAACP Youth and College Division. At its first meeting in 1936, 217 youth delegates held a national conference simultaneously with adult members. Two decades later, they were launching their own movement. In 1958, they helped bring 10,000 NAACP youth to this city for the Youth March for Integrated Schools, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first national address. That same year, NAACP Youth Councils in Wichita and Oklahoma City conducted lunch counter sit-ins. By mid-1959, more than 50 NAACP Youth Councils were sitting in.
On February 1st, 1960, four North Carolina AT & T students, Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain sat in at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro. Blair had attended our 1959 convention in New York as an alternate Youth Delegate from Greensboro, where he heard Clara Luper, Youth Advisor of the Oklahoma City NAACP, describe their sit-in.[xxi] He and McNeil were officers of the Greensboro Youth Council and the other two AT & T students were NAACP members. Their actions that day, which started the modern student movement for civil rights, are commemorated in song:
"The time was 1960, the place the USA.
February 1st became a history making day. From Greensboro across the land, the news spread far and wide.
As quietly and bravely, youth took a giant stride."[xxii]
Today more than 500 NAACP Youth Councils, high school chapters, and college chapters are addressing local and national issues and fighting for social justice.
You are our past, present and future.
Stand up, youth members, and let us salute you!
Finally, this year we observe the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the NAACP, at Harpers Ferry. It was at Harpers Ferry, in 1859, that the abolitionist John Brown fired what many believe was the first shot of the Civil War.
Before the raid, John Brown met secretly with Frederick Douglass in a small town in Southern Pennsylvania. Brown explained his plan for attacking the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and starting a slave insurrection. He told Douglass:
"[W]hen I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I shall want you to help hive them."
Douglass refused and tried to dissuade Brown, fearing that Harpers Ferry was a military trap.
Douglass turned to his servant, Shields Green, like Douglass an escaped slave, and said, "Let's go, Shields".
Shields Green replied, "I believe I'll go with the old man."
Shields Green would die, along with Brown and 16 of his 21 other men, at Harpers Ferry. But they would not die in vain.
As our founder W. E. B. DuBois wrote:
"Jesus Christ came not to bring peace but a sword. So did John Brown. Jesus Christ gave his life as a sacrifice for the lowly. So did John Brown."
One hundred years ago, when DuBois' Niagara Movement took place at Harpers Ferry, the delegates made a pilgrimage to John Brown's fort, where he made his last stand.
Twenty-six years later, in 1932, DuBois returned to Harpers Ferry to lay a plaque in Brown's honor. The plaque was thought to be too controversial, too militant, and permission was refused.
This past Friday, representatives of the NAACP revisited Harpers Ferry. The plaque now lies in its rightful place, 74 years later.
John Brown's body lies a-moldering in the grave, but his spirit lives on:
"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer him! Be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on."
(Julian Bond is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Government at the American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor in History at the University of Virginia. In February l998, he was elected Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors.)
[i] Lewis Black, The Daily Show (July 26, 2005).
[ii] "Lowering Profiling's Profile," The Washington Post (August 26, 2005).
[iii] Tyler Lewis, "Texas among the States with the Most Egregious Rights Violations, Says Report," civilrights.org (June 28, 2006).
[iv] "Schools' Efforts Await Justices' Ruling in Cases on Race and School Assignments," The New York Times at A11 (June 24, 2006).
[vi] Michael K. Brown, David Wellman, "Embedding the Color Line," DuBois Review, Vol. 2, Fall 2005, Cambridge University Press.
[vii] DuBois, W. E. B., "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others", The Souls of Black Folk, A. C. McClung & Co., Chicago, 1903.
[viii] Kluger, Richard, Simple Justice, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1976, p. 748 (emphasis added).
[ix] Josh Barbanel, "Grading the Schools", The New York Times, at B5, Jan.3,1997.
[x] "Commencement Address," by James Bond, Berea College Reporter (June1892).
[xi] President George W. Bush, New Orleans, Louisiana (September 15, 2005).
[xii] George F. Will, "Who Isn't a 'Values Voter'?", The Washington Post at A23 (May 18, 2006)
[xiii] Charlie Savage, "Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws," The Boston Globe(April 20, 2006).
[xiv] President Ronald Reagan, 18 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 846 (June 29.1982).
[xv] For an 8885-page ACLU report listing Voting Rights Act violations and justifying renewal of the Act, see: http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/votingrightsreport20060307.pdf
[xvi] Charles Babington, "GOP Rebellion Stops Voting Rights Act," The Washington Post at A7 (June 22, 2006)
[xvii] Ira Glasser, "Drug Busts = Jim Crow," The Nation (July 10, 2006).
[xix] "Block the Vote", The New York Times (May 30, 2006).
[xx] NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U. S. 288, 309-10 (1964) quoting Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, 523.
[xxi] Linda W. Reese, "Clara Luper and the Oklahoma City Civil Rights Movement," in Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Moore, eds., African American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000, University of Oklahoma Press (2003).
[xxii] Guy Carawan, Eve Merriam, Norman Curtis, "The Ballad of the Student Sit-ins", Sing for Freedom, A Sing Out Publication, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania(1990).