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As NAACP aims to stay in national debate, charge of tea party racism draws fire

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 9:56 AM

One thing is clear as the NAACP gathers this week for its 101st annual meeting: The civil rights organization is intent on being seen as still relevant.

Even former Alaska governor Sarah Palin sent out a Twitter message and posted a statement on her Facebook page, helping to make the NAACP convention a hot topic on conservative Web sites. She condemned the organization's passage of a resolution denouncing what it called "racist elements" within the "tea party" movement.

The NAACP statement, which won overwhelming support among the group's voting members, sparked a round of denials from grass-roots conservatives and lots of media coverage.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous also released a letter to BP chief executive Tony Hayward, asking to meet with company officials to discuss his "outrage" that minority contractors are apparently being left out in the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The organization also hopes to open up a debate on charter schools, and has invited Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and others to discuss the issue.

The mix of controversial positions comes amid promises from Jealous and the new NAACP chairman, Roslyn Brock, to inject energy into the organization, which spent the past two years answering questions about whether it remains necessary after the election of the nation's first African American president.

"My hope is that our members leave fired up and focused and ready to organize," Jealous said as the group debated the tea party resolution.

The statement, which was submitted by the NAACP's Kansas City, Mo., branch, did much to get a hot debate going. It says members of the movement have "displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically" and says "the racist elements" within the tea party are "a threat to progress."

Authors of the statement cite as examples the reports by some black members of Congress that they were spat upon and subjected to racial epithets before they voted on the health-care overhaul. No charges were filed, and some tea party supporters have denied the claims, saying there is no evidence that they occurred.

Tea party supporters vehemently condemned the NAACP's vote. Palin wrote on her Facebook page: "The charge that Tea Party Americans judge people by the color of their skin is false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand."

The St. Louis Tea Party reacted by passing its own formal resolution, which reads in part: "We settle our disputes civilly and avoid the gutter tactic of attempting to silence opponents by inflammatory name-calling. . . . The very term 'racist' has diminished meaning due to its overuse by political partisans including members of the NAACP."

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