Black Struggle Continues, Says NAACP Leader
PRESIDENT BUSH'S rating on civil rights issues is ``favorable for the present,'' says Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). ``My plan is to wait and see before giving him a passing final grade, however.'' In an interview following the recent NAACP annual convention here, he says that African Americans may soon revive street demonstrations, sit-ins, and walkouts to regain rights won in the 1960s, rights Mr. Hooks says a hostile United States Supreme Court has eroded in the 1980s.
Black people must be angry once more, he says, if they want to hold their own against a limp US Civil Rights Commission, and rising discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities in the US.
``The struggle continues,'' Hooks says. ``The Reagan Supreme Court has set the cause of civil rights back in four major cases.'' Those decisions make it more difficult to win affirmative-action suits.
How does he view the first six months of the Bush administration? ``Blacks can work with President Bush,'' Hooks says. ``We have been inside the White House more often in his half year than we were during all the years of the previous administration.... He has made some good appointments, and some we don't support. We do have access to the president, and that's a good omen.''
Hooks praises the President for:
Removing the ``iron curtain'' that has ``separated the White House from black Americans over the past several years.''
Showing a ``compassion and understanding for civil rights actions.''
Making ``outstanding'' [black] appointments: Dr. Louis Sullivan as secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS); Constance Newman as head of the Office of Personnel; Jewel Lafontant as US coordinator for refugee affairs; Frederick McClure as assistant to the president; and Grover Hankins, former NAACP general counsel, as HHS deputy general counsel.
Making appropriate symbolic gestures. ``The President has commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act,'' he says. ``He has spoken with black South African leaders. Vice-President Dan Quayle said the right things'' at the NAACP convention.
``But, I must add, the future of blacks and civil rights will not rise and fall on what Bush may say or do. No president ever makes or breaks a black initiative. But a president can be an awfully great help!''
Although Hooks praises the President, he cautions: ``Right now we are waiting for him to translate his promises into action. We plan to promote legislation to counter four recent Supreme Court decisions. We would like for him to support this legislation.
``We want him to live up to his dream of becoming the education president. We certainly want his administration to support programs that bring economic progress to the average black American. We want him to support affirmative action, business set-asides for black entrepreneurs, and more educational opportunities for black youth.''
To activate his ideas, Hooks plans a ``silent march'' on Washington Aug. 26 and a national conference on black priorities.
``The nation is in a conservative mood.... We black people know we face hostility,'' he says, citing the election of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member, to the Louisiana Legislature.
``Our first line of offense is black economics,'' he says. ``On paper we blacks are one of the world's richest `nations' with our $200 billion gross national product in the United States.
``Unfortunately, we are a consumer people, and not a productive nation.''