RADFORD — In a speech Wednesday, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond called on defenders of civil rights to support the country’s first black president as he faces what is expected to be tough second year in office.
Bond’s remarks at Radford University’s fourth annual celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday came a day after the Democratic Party lost the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown, and with it, the party’s filibuster-proof majority.
The election puts Obama’s health care overhaul in jeopardy and has caused speculation that public opinion may be turning against the president.
While “black faces in high places” give reason for hope, Bond, the 70-year-old founder of the storied Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, argued that “racism is alive and well for every nonwhite American, including the president.”
Obama’s historic election has ironically caused complacency among some civil rights supporters, who see it is a sign that racism in America is dead.
But that same election has energized “the Taliban wing” of the Republican Party, Bond said, from anti-government groups such as the “birthers,” who challenge Obama’s citizenship, to “tea party” members who call for the dismantling of much of the federal government.
Bond cited a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that found “the number of hate groups operating in the United States continued to rise in 2008 and has grown by 54 percent since 2000 — an increase fueled last year by immigration fears, a failing economy and the successful campaign of Barack Obama.”
While the recession has hurt all Americans, blacks still suffer more than their white counterparts. Today the unemployment rate for blacks stands at 15.7 percent, compared with 9.5 percent among whites, Bond said.
Infant mortality and murder rates are up in black communities across the country, Bond said. Black homeownership is declining rapidly, and with it, the wealth of the black middle class.
“This didn’t happen by accident,” Bond said.
He accused mortgage lenders of targeting black neighborhoods with high-interest subprime loans and pointed to discrimination suits recently filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against some of the country’s largest banking firms. Bond has led the NAACP for 11 years.
Obama “is paying a high price today for not solving in one year the problems it took eight years to create,” Bond said. “He needs time and support.”
Bond drew parallels between the civil rights movement and Obama’s battles for reform. He called for a return to the values of the struggle against segregation: “Litigate. Organize. Mobilize. Coalition,” Bond said.
“King did not march alone.”