Video: Kerry's remarks upset civil rights group

updated 3/10/2004 12:52:51 PM ET 2004-03-10T17:52:51

The head of a civil rights and legal services advocacy group wants Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to apologize for saying he wouldn’t be upset if he could be known as the second black president.

“John Kerry is not a black man — he is a privileged white man who has no idea what it is in this country to be a poor white in this country, let alone a black man,” said Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change.

Last week, Kerry told the American Urban Radio Network: “President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn’t be upset if I could earn the right to be the second.”

Kerry’s spokesman Chad Clanton said: “This was intended as a light-natured remark about President Clinton’s strong legacy with African Americans. It is a legacy that John Kerry would like to build upon if elected president. John Kerry has a record of fighting for civil rights and as president he will continue this fight.”

Harris also criticized civil rights leaders who “sit back and ignore these types of comments, a practice that further insults African Americans.”

“It seems that all these leaders care about is their personal agendas in how a ’John Kerry’ will keep up their personal causes,” she said.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who is black, was asked by the Kerry campaign to weigh in on the issue. He said Kerry’s remark shouldn’t be taken as a jab at blacks.

“He is saying that he wants to be an activist president resolving many issues that are important to the African American community,” Meeks said. “Kerry was simply stating that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Clinton in addressing issues that are important to African Americans.”

The Andrew Young National Center for Social Change, based in Harrisburg, Pa., provides legal services to the poor.

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