NAACP's Bond Blasts Congressional GOP: Leadership Called Hostile to Civil Rights

By Bill McAllister, Washington Post Staff Writer
Washington Post, Sunday, February 21, 1999, page A7
� Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Less than 12 hours after President Clinton asked the NAACP to support his domestic policy agenda, the group's chairman replied yesterday with a sharp attack on the Republican congressional leadership, charging "they have become the running dogs of the wacky radical right."

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond cited what he said is GOP resistance to civil rights legislation and told his organization's annual meeting that it faced as important a challenge in Washington as it has confronted in its 90 years.

"The leadership of the House and Senate is more hostile to civil rights than at any time in the recent past," Bond said. He cited legislation that new House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) cosponsored last year that "would have eliminated all federal equal opportunity programs in education, employment and contracting."

Bond's attack on the GOP came hours after Clinton went before the NAACP to warn against complacency because of good economic times. "We're in a lot better shape than we used to be in, but we're nowhere near where we ought to be," Clinton declared at a Friday night reception here.

Yesterday morning, as the group convened to sing "Happy Birthday" to itself, Bond criticized Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for attacking Clinton's "conduct and character," saying he wanted to do the same to Lott.

Bond attacked Lott for his friendly speech in 1992 to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which has ties to white supremacist groups. Bond said he was alarmed that "to date, no member of the Senate, not one Democrat and not one Republican, has spoken out against this outrage."

The NAACP chairman, who yesterday was elected to a second one-year term as head of the Baltimore-based organization's board, called the silence "a scandal and a shame."

Bond and Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president and chief executive officer, were pressed over a sharp increase in annual membership dues that becomes effective March 1. The increase, the first in 16 years, will raise the basic dues from $10 to $30.

"If you're going to go to $30, we're going to lose all our small chapters," complained Esther A. Trice, president of the 60-member Huntingdon County, Pa., chapter.

"Freedom isn't free," Bond responded, citing a civil rights refrain from the 1960s.

Bond and Mfume argued that the increase was one of the key steps they have taken to improve the 500,000-member organization's finances. While Bond conceded it might cause a temporary dip in membership, he predicted that the NAACP's overall membership will rebound to 1 million in three to four years.

He based that estimate in part on a new direct mail effort to get membership renewals. It replaces the organization's old method of depending on individuals to personally contact members each year, a procedure Bond argued leads to a large membership turnover each year.

The organization, which was in deep financial trouble a few years ago, is out of debt and on sound financial ground, the leaders told a gathering of about 500.

"We're back," declared Bond, a former Georgia state senator and civil rights pioneer who is a professor at American University and the University of Virginia. "We're tall, tan, rested and ready, and we'll pay whatever it costs to see this light of freedom shine ahead -- or we'll know the reason why."

Although both men have vowed to remain leaders of the organization, Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Baltimore, had to turn aside suggestions that he might run for mayor there. "This is the biggest challenge I've had in my life," he told a news conference. "I'm not going to run away from it."