MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
Now to a war of words between the Tea Party and the country's largest civil rights group. At its annual convention in Kansas City, the NAACP approved a resolution condemning what it calls racist elements within the Tea Party. Tea Party leaders dispute the charge, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: Here's how this fray began. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous issued this challenge to the Tea Party...
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You must expel the bigots and racists in your ranks or take full responsibility for all of their actions.
CORLEY: Last night, delegates at the convention unanimously approved a resolution echoing Jealous's words. It said that while the group believed in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in democracy, the Tea Party should repudiate bigoted statements, images and any racist leaders.
MARK WILLIAMS: I don't recall the NAACP speaking out when George Bush was portrayed as curious George or as the Joker.
CORLEY: Mark Williams is a national spokesman for the Tea Party Express.
WILLIAMS: I don't recall the NAACP ever standing up and saying that we needed to, you know, civilize discourse when Republicans were in the White House.
CORLEY: A number of Tea Party leaders say they don't tolerate racist displays. And Williams contends that it's actually the NAACP that's bigoted.
WILLIAMS: You're dealing with people who are professional race baiters, who make a very good living off of this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader ever. It's time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong, with all the other vile racist groups that emerged in our history.
CORLEY: Charges of Tea Party racism flared after African-American Congressmen said they were heckled, spat at and tea party supporters called them racial slurs during a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol.
People in the Tea Party movement have been holding rallies for more than a year now calling for limited government and protesting the Obama administration. Jamal Simmons, a Washington D.C.-based Democratic strategist, says supporters of the president's policies have not been as active.
JAMAL SIMMONS: We've been leaving the president hanging. "The president's been out there pushing these real solid policies: health care, jobs, stimulus, education reform. And those of us who consider ourselves to be his allies, haven't been doing our part in being out there, pushing hard enough against his opponents and explaining why it is we're for what the president is doing while they're saying what they're against.
CORLEY: Polls show that black Americans still overwhelmingly support the president, with approval ratings of about 90 percent. But many in 2008 were considered Obama voters who don't regularly show up to vote. So the resolution is part of a strategy to motivate potential voters to come out in November.
And so is an upcoming march in Washington that NAACP President Ben Jealous rallied the troops for, as the NAACP gets ready for the midterm elections.
JEALOUS: The NAACP, along with its allies and partners, will show America that the solid majority of this nation is ready, willing and able to fight back, to ensure that all of the change we voted for is made a reality for all of our children.
CORLEY: Madeline Taylor of Memphis, Tennessee, said she's glad Jealous decided to take on the Tea Party. And she's not perturbed that Tea Party activist Mark Williams accuses the NAACP of being racist.
MADELINE TAYLOR: We're always accused of being racist when we stand up and speak for ourselves.
CORLEY: The Tea Party resolution will go to the NAACP's National Board of Directors for a full vote in the fall.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Kansas City, Missouri.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LOUISE KELLY: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.