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  •   Gore: Wide Disparity in Prosperity

    Vice President Gore
    Vice President Gore and Coretta Scott King, widow of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, at the NAACP national convention. (AP)
    By Michael A. Fletcher
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, July 17, 1998; Page A09

    ATLANTA, July 16 — As his expected presidential bid continues to take form, Vice President Gore did a little preaching to the choir today, telling thousands of NAACP members that too many African Americans are excluded from the benefits of the nation's prosperity.

    Amplifying a theme discussed throughout the NAACP's annual convention here, Gore cited wide disparities in black and white wealth, education and health statistics as causes for concern. He said the gaps can be closed only if government plays an active role in extending opportunities and African Americans are prepared to take advantage of them.

    Gore criticized Republicans for opposing Clinton administration efforts to combat racial discrimination and expand opportunities for minority communities. He also blamed Congress for cutting proposals to increase after-school programs, provide summer jobs and strengthening civil rights enforcement.

    "The Republicans know theirs is the wrong agenda for African Americans. They don't even want to count you in the census," he said, referring to GOP opposition to a proposal to use statistical sampling to count residents in communities that are traditionally undercounted.

    The address before the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group mirrored others Gore has made in recent months, as the administration frequently has dispatched him to deliver good news to audiences that are key Democratic constituencies.

    Here, Gore announced a new Small Business Administration partnership with the NAACP to aid black business. He also garnered applause by announcing that President Clinton signed a bill today to build a monument to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall.

    Before his speech, Gore was introduced as the worthy scion of a political family that is a longtime friend of the civil rights community. "I have to say Al, you come from good stuff," said Maxine Smith, an NAACP board member from Gore's home state of Tennessee.

    His reception was at least as warm. More than 3,500 members offered a standing ovation and waved American flags and an organist played a few bars of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as Gore emerged on stage.

    Speaking in a cadenced and demonstrative style, Gore did little to disappoint his audience. During his 50-minute speech, he voiced strong support for affirmative action, condemned several racist attacks, including the recent killing of a black man in Jasper, Tex., and ridiculed those who say the nation has progressed to the point that it is a colorblind society.

    "These people who now call for the end of policies to promote equal opportunity say there's been so much progress that no more such efforts are justified," Gore said. "What are they thinking? Don't they recognize that the tap root of racism is hundreds of years long?"

    The deal Gore announced between the SBA and the NAACP is part of a strategy to quadruple the amount of SBA-backed loans and guarantees that go to small black businesses to $1.4 billion by 2000. It mirrors a similar effort aimed at small Latino-owned firms. The plan is to have civil rights and other groups, including the NAACP, National Urban League and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, act as SBA partners in providing technical assistance to small firms in an effort to make more black businesses eligible for SBA loan programs.

    Praising the Clinton administration's diversity, Gore listed about a dozen high-level jobs that have gone to racial minorities. "My friends, the most diverse administration in history is also one of the most successful in history," he said. "And that's not in spite of our diversity; it is because of it."

    After the talk, several NAACP members said they were surprised – and encouraged – by what they saw as Gore's apparent passion and conviction. "I thought he was great," said Ora Bell, an NAACP delegate from Ohio. "I have never heard him so committed and forceful in his expression." William Ross, a retired truck driver from Dallas, said he loved the speech. "He was straightforward about what's going on in terms of racism," Ross said. "More than that, he was clear about what they are trying to do to fight it."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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