The NAACP has approved a resolution condemning what it calls "racist elements" within the Tea Party. The vote has sparked a war of words between the two groups, and NAACP leaders hope the move will help fire up its membership with midterm elections approaching.
The fray began when NAACP President Benjamin Jealous issued a challenge to the Tea Party:
"You must expel the bigots and racists in your ranks or take full responsibility for all of their actions."
Delegates at the convention unanimously approved a resolution echoing Jealous' words Tuesday night. 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.
"I don't recall the NAACP speaking out when George Bush was portrayed as Curious George or as The Joker," said Mark Williams, a national spokesman for the Tea Party Express.
"I don't recall the NAACP ever standing up and saying we need to civilize discourse when Republicans were in the White House," Williams added.
A number of Tea Party leaders say they don't tolerate racist displays.
Williams contends that it's actually the NAACP that's being bigoted.
"You're dealing with people who are professional race-baiters, who make a very good living off 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," Williams said.
Charges of racism against the Tea Party flared after African-American congressmen said they were heckled, spat at and were assailed with racial slurs by Tea Party supporters 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.
"We've been leaving the president hanging," said Jamal Simmons, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist. "The president's been out there pushing these real solid policies: health care, jobs, stimulus, education reform. Those of us who consider ourselves to be his allies haven't been doing our part in being out there and pushing hard enough against his opponents. Explaining why we're for what the president is doing while they're saying what they're against."
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 and vote in November.
And so is an upcoming march in Washington that NAACP's Jealous rallied the troops for as the organization gets ready for the midterm elections.
"The NAACP along with its allies and partners will show America that a solid majority of this nation is ready, willing and able to fight back to ensure that all the change we voted for is made a reality for all of our children," Jealous said.
Madeline Taylor of Memphis, Tenn., said she's glad Jealous decided to take on the Tea Party. She's not perturbed that a Tea Party activist accused the NAACP of being racist.
"We're always accused of being racist when we stand up and speak for ourselves," Taylor said.
The Tea Party resolution will go to the NAACP's national board of directors for a full vote in the fall. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]