Bush Set to Speak at NAACP Convention

President Bush will deliver an address to the NAACP convention Thursday, after years of poor relations with the civil rights group. What do delegates want to hear from Mr. Bush?

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In addition to casting his first veto, Mr. Bush has another first this week. He's going to address the NAACP for the first time in his presidency. Its annual meeting is in Washington D.C.

NPR's Allison Keyes spoke to delegates and leaders of the nations oldest civil rights organization and they say they are eager to hear what the president has to say.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

To feel the depth of the rift between President Bush and the NAACP, one need only listen to the group's chairman, Julian Bond. On Sunday Bond was joking about the president's previous refusals to speak at this convention.

Mr. JULIAN BOND (NAACP): In 2005, for the fifth straight year, he had declined to appear before us. He cited scheduling conflicts. That was true. He had spent the previous weeks scheduling conflicts.

KEYES: Mr. Bush has repeatedly said no to the NAACP's requests, in part because of the campaign ad the organization ran in 2000. The ad linked the president to the 1998 dragging death of an African American, James Bird, in Texas, a crime that reminded many blacks of the lynchings and other horrific killings that took place in the past.

The president has also said that escalating rhetoric from the NAACP's leaders and attacks on his policies made he feel him he would not be received by delegates with the respect his office deserves. But more recently, a campaign of conciliation on both sides has turned the tide.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Spokesman): I think the president wants to make the argument that he has a career that reflects a strong commitment to civil rights.

KEYES: Yesterday, White House spokesman Tony Snow confirmed that the president will speak tomorrow, calling it a moment of opportunity.

Mr. SNOW: The president wants to make his voice heard. He has an important role to play, not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly the case for unity.

KEYES: Snow says the president and NAACP president Bruce Gordon have good relations. That's partly because Gordon, a former Verizon executive, has worked at it in a way that resignated with the White House. The general mood among NAACP delegates hurrying along the convention center today was one of welcome for President Bush. People like Ann Robinson, of Chilakapati, Ohio, agree with Chairman Bond that the president need not worry about a hostile reaction here.

Ms. ANN ROBINSON (NAACP Delegate): He will be treated courteously. You know, we will be ladies and gentlemen.

KEYES: Robinson says any past anger over Mr. Bush's previous refusal should be forgotten. And she wants to hear him say -

Ms. ROBINSON: Anything positive for the good of all the citizens of the United States of America. We're all tax paying people and we all deserve the best that our country can give us.

KEYES: At the same time, people life Alfred Duset(ph), of Lake Charles, Louisiana, think the president insulted this group by not accepting previous invitations.

Mr. ALFRED DUSET (NAACP Delegate): First we need an apology and a, explanation why he has not attended any of our conventions.

KEYES: Duset says Mr. Bush has behaved as if African Americans don't matter and that the president has agreed appeared now only because Republicans are in a bind.

Mr. DUSET: And they want to pull us into it now because they are in trouble. That's that old black exploitation plan. It's a publicity stunt.

KEYES: Throughout this week, delegates have focused on voting rights, education and job creation. The president's speech comes on the last day of the convention.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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