Although the President got a decent welcome at this first-ever address to the NAACP last week, not all black leaders were pleased that he spoke to the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was one of the unhappy ones.
“This was totally unnecessary,” said Innis, who has chaired the 64-year-old CORE since 1968. By addressing the NAACP, Innis said, Bush bolstered the notion that “in order to be noticed by conservatives, a black has to continue to be hostile to them.”
Innis has a long record of campaigning for Republicans, including George W. Bush. But he warned that Bush’s courtship of civil rights groups with ties to the Democratic Party “is going to underscore a one-party system for blacks rather than a two-party system, and that’s very unhealthy.”
Recalling how the NAACP Legal Defense Fund launched an independent campaign in 2000 linking Bush to the murder of James Byrd, Jr., by a white supremacist in Texas, Innis noted he and the leadership of CORE—while in no way partisan, he pointed out—reached out to Bush and other Republicans.
“James Farmer, the first head of CORE when it was launched in 1942, ran as a Republican for Congress in New York in 1968 and later served in the Nixon Administration as assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development,” said Innis, who himself had proudly campaigned with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
“I’m not saying that President Bush should ignore groups such as the NAACP, only that he should not forget those who are his real friends and have been laboring for him and his agenda,” said Innis. “As a candidate for President in 2000, George W. Bush spoke to the CORE dinner here [in New York City], and he was very well-received. We have invited him to speak every year since he has been in the White House, and he has never shown up.”
Innis contrasted Bush’s habitual absence from CORE’s dinners to the readiness of Republican leaders in Congress to address CORE functions when invited. “When Bill Frist became majority leader of the Senate, we invited him to speak at our dinner and he accepted without question,” said Innis. “The same is true of other Republicans in Congress.”
When I asked White House Spokesman Tony Snow why President Bush addressed the NAACP, which has been very critical of him, and not CORE, which has been friendly, Snow replied that Bush has addressed other groups such as the Urban League, noting that the NAACP “is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.”
“I’m especially disappointed in Tony for that,” Innis told me. “Tony took me aside at the Republican National Convention in 2000 and told me how upset he was that many civil rights groups overlooked George W. Bush’s record on civil rights and that he hoped Karl Rove and Bush, if they went to the White House, would not forget their friends.”
When I shared Innis’s criticism with Snow at a subsequent White House briefing, he told me that he had known the civil rights leader for years and, said, “I appreciate your passing on Roy Innis’ reservations.” (Radio talk-show host Larry Elder was not happy with Bush’s speech to the NAACP.)