Bush's NAACP Speech is First as President
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
For President Bush today an appearance that was five years in the making. For the first time since he took office, he spoke to the NAACP's annual convention. Two years ago Mr. Bush said his relationship with leaders of the NAACP was basically nonexistent and the group's leaders had their own harsh words for him. Now an effort to reach out. Coming up we'll hear what delegates thought of his speech.
First, to NPR's David Greene at the White House.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Mr. Bush's appearance before the nation's largest civil rights group was not like his typical performances. From the start he knew he had to acknowledge his previous absences and he tried to clear the air after being introduced by NAACP president Bruce Gordon.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Bruce is a polite guy. I thought what he was going to say, it's about time you showed up.
GREENE: Mr. Bush then seemed to commit more time than usual to a search for common ground and rapport with his audience. He said that when people talk about Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, they forget that African Americans also were among the country's founders, building a nation out of the wilderness.
President BUSH: And later their descendents led a people out of the wilderness of bigotry. Nearly 200 years into our history as our nation America experienced a second founding, the civil rights movement. Some of those leaders are here.
GREENE: Then the president moved to his own agenda and some rougher going with the crowd. He got polite applause when he spoke about making sure minority owned businesses are doing a lot of the rebuilding on the Gulf Coast. He also spoke of his faith based initiative, which permits more federal funding for programs run by churches and religious charities. Mr. Bush said his initiative was hung up in the courts and tried to rally the crowd to his cause.
President BUSH: They claim that they fight the initiative in the name of civil liberties, yet they do not seem to realize that the organizations they are trying to prevent from accessing federal money are the same ones that helped win the struggle of civil rights.
GREENE: The crowd response was warmer when Mr. Bush noted the Senate was expected to join the House today in renewing the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
President BUSH: Soon the Senate will take up the legislation. I look forward to the Senate passing this bill promptly without amendment.
GREENE: And the president delivered the words many in the audience wanted to hear.
President BUSH: So I can sign it into law.
GREENE: Aside from his promise to extend the Voting Rights Act, the biggest applause line in the speech may have been unexpected.
President BUSH: And I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party.
GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, the White House.