Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) arrived today at the 74th annual convention of the NAACP with a heavy burden on his back and a chip on his shoulder.
On Tuesday, the association released its civil rights report cards on five Democratic presidential hopefuls and President Reagan. Reagan got an "F," and so did Hollings. He didn't like the company that that put him in a bit.
Hollings today questioned the weighting procedures and complained that insufficient consideration was given to the sensitivity he has developed over the last several years.
"You don't understand and know civil rights until you've lived civil wrongs," he said.
When a black reporter pressed Hollings, a four-term senator and former governor, to explain why he had opposed civil rights legislation in the past, he bristled in firm but not vindictive tones.
"Don't you know anything? Where do you think we've come from?" Hollings said. "Heavens above! When I started in and got elected in 1948 it was against the law for you to sit and ask me a question.
"If they had given Lyndon Johnson that particular test--and I don't know a president who did better by the minorities, the black community--heavens above, you'd have run him out of the country instead of electing him president."
NAACP executive director Benjamin L. Hooks later said that the ratings system would be reconsidered. He added, however, that he did not think that Hollings' standing would change.
The ratings, based on selected Senate votes between 1965 and 1982, found former vice president and Minnesota senator Walter F. Mondale voting with the association 87.7 percent of the time, Sen. Alan Cranston of California, 84.7 percent, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, 82.1 percent, Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, 80 percent and Hollings, 39.8 percent.
Reagan's rating was estimated at less than 50 percent by NAACP legislative director Althea T.L. Simmons.
The organization does not make political endorsements, and no straw polls were scheduled. But for the candidates, particularly those less well known in general and with blacks in particular, this is an opportunity to make a political pitch and, they hope, dispel outmoded notions and win friends.
None of the first three candidates to appear, Hollings and Cranston today and former Florida governor Reuben Askew on Monday, received more than polite, lukewarm receptions.
Askew focused on attacking the Reagan administration.
He said the administration has turned back 30 years of civil rights progress in 30 months in office. It has backed down on desegregation, urged tax exemptions "to subsidize racism," abandoned affirmative action and "emasculated" the Legal Services Corp., he charged.
Cranston characterized himself as a regular ally of blacks in numerous recent civil rights battles. He accused Reagan of trying to dismantle many programs that had helped blacks in the name of getting government off the backs of the people.
"The government climbed on a lot of backs when it opened up the voting booths, and the lunch counters, and the swimming pools . . . when it made fair housing and equal employment the law of the land," Cranston said. "And if the government has to stay on some backs to see that those laws are obeyed and enforced, then that's right where government belongs."
Hollings also criticized Reagan's policies, saying that "Reaganomics has put 3 million additional Americans out on the street, padding the sidewalk looking for jobs."
Mondale, Glenn and Vice President Bush will address the convention Friday.