Image: Julian Bond
Paul Sancya  /  AP
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond addresses the civil rights organization's 98th annual convention in Detroit Sunday.
updated 7/8/2007 11:04:29 PM ET 2007-07-09T03:04:29

The NAACP is needed now more than ever because the Bush administration has done little to support blacks, the civil rights organization’s national chairman said Sunday as its 98th annual convention opened.

From the administration’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina to the war in Iraq and immigration issues, Bush has seen his presidency questioned, Julian Bond, board chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told an audience of about 3,000.

The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by more than 5 million, to 37 million, during the Bush administration, Bond said.

“And the gap has grown between the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “Almost a quarter of black Americans nationwide live below the poverty line, as compared with only 8.6 percent of whites.”

Bond called present-day inequality and racial disparities cumulative and the result of racial advantages compounded over time.

“Many Americans maintain ... that racial discrimination has become an ancient artifact,” he said. “At the NAACP, we know none of this is true, and that’s why we are dedicated to an aggressive campaign of social justice, fighting racial discrimination.”

He noted that the Supreme Court, which includes two justices nominated by Bush, upheld rulings saying school systems could not voluntarily use race in assigning students to schools.

“The Bush court removed black children from the law’s protection,” Bond said.

And the possibility that New Orleans’ heavily black Lower Ninth Ward, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, will never be rebuilt is comparable to a “lynching” because the work of generations was wiped out in a single day and black landholders are being dispossessed, Bond said.

“Katrina served to underscore how the war in Iraq has weakened, rather than strengthened, our defenses, including our levees,” Bond said. “The problem isn’t that we can’t prosecute a war in the Persian Gulf and protect our citizens on the Gulf Coast at home. The problem is that we cannot do either one.”

A message seeking comment was left Sunday night with the White House press office.

The NAACP is experiencing changes that include the search for a new CEO and downsizing in which more than 70 employees lost their jobs. The organization also is in the early stages of a $100 million fundraising drive.

The organization must strengthen its branches and state conferences and build membership, he said.

Detroit resident Akindele Akinyemi, 32, said before the speech that he was curious about the direction the NAACP will during the next year.

“I want to find out what strategies they would use to bring younger members on board, and what issues are relevant to young adults,” he said.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, 37, agreed in brief remarks to help open the meeting, saying: “I don’t believe we can continue to put people over 50 as leaders of civil rights organizations and expect to galvanize the power beyond measure.”

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