NAACP Attendees and President Bush

NPR's Allison Keyes reports on reaction to President Bush's speech from delegates at the NAACP's annual convention. It was the first time Mr. Bush has addressed the civil rights group since he took office.

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ALLISON KEYES reporting:

I'm Allison Keyes with a view from the convention floor.

The NAACP delegate greeted Mr. Bush with a standing ovation and seemed generally pleased that he had come. But in the hall there were several hundred empty seats and many who attended sat with crossed arms and skeptical looks.

The president's usual folksy rhythm was off and some of the statements didn't go over well. Jackson, Mississippi, delegate Irene Jones called the speech bland and thought President Bush should have remembered to whom he was speaking.

Ms. IRENE JONES (NAACP delegate): There seemed to be a lot of places where he expected applause, but he forgot that this is a highly politically educated audience and so we recognize what's not said and we recognize what this is being used for. He's in some trouble right now.

KEYES: Most in the audience, like Mervin Sealy(ph) from Hickory, North Carolina, cheered to hear the president say he would sign the Voting Rights Act.

Mr. MERVIN SEALY (NAACP delegate): That was the main point. That's why we're here.

KEYES: But Sealy was unhappy to hear President Bush's support for vouchers, a statement that drew a few boos from the crowd, and a few other points as well.

Mr. SEALY: Of course I'm in no way for charter schools or vouchers. I am in no way for him to mess with Social Security and when he talks about home ownership, we need jobs.

KEYES: Two protestors, one in glasses and dread locks, tried to interrupt the president's speech.

President BUSH: - Civil War.

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)

President BUSH: and the 20th century denied African Americans to vote in many parts of our country.

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)

President BUSH: And at the beginnings of the 21th century -

KEYES: Shouting about teaching children to read and asking questions about Dick Cheney and the situation in the Middle East. After the speech civil rights veteran and Congressman John Lewis wondered why Mr. Bush didn't talk about foreign policy.

Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): I'm surprised he didn't say much about what is going abroad, about the Middle East and the war. You know we're not one (unintelligible) issue. We're not just concerned about civil rights. We're concerned about peace and balance and war.

KEYES: But many in the crowd were pleased with President Bush's appearance after all the work to establish the grounds for dialogue, that included NAACP president Bruce Gordon.

Mr. BRUCE GORDON (NAACP president): Now that that has occurred, there's a willingness to see whether we can work together and I'm hoping to do that.

KEYES: Many here say they are waiting with interest to see what the partnership Mr. Bush promised on stage turns out to be.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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