Benjamin Hooks, retiring NAACP executive director, preached black self-sufficiency as he opened the group's national convention for the last time.
"We must always do for ourselves all that we can do," Mr. Hooks said Sunday in his 15th and last keynote speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The convention was in an uproar a day earlier after likely independent presidential candidate Ross Perot referred to blacks as "you people" and "your people" in a speech there. Some listeners were offended, and Mr. Perot later apologized.
At a news conference Sunday, Hooks said Perot's remarks were unfortunate, but were "played all out of proportion."
"What Perot said is what thousands of white and black politicians say, he just used the wrong phrase," Hooks said.
Rich Bond, the Republican national chairman, said Sunday the incident illustrated a broader problem for Perot. "I really think it underscores the fundamental tin ear that Ross Perot does have when it comes to national politics," Mr. Bond said in New York.
But Perot press secretary Sharon Holman said he won't make the same mistake again. "He's not a politician. It was an unfortunate choice of words, we now know in retrospect," she said.
Hooks is retiring April 1; no successor has been named.
In his speech, he urged middle-class blacks to help the less fortunate.
"May I remind those of us who live above the level of poverty, ... work in the high echelons of finance and industry, that ... our brothers and sisters are calling on us to work with them to escape the debilitating effects of poverty," Hooks said.
Hooks also defended the organization against criticism by "some talk shows and pundits" that it was out of touch.
"They have draped the mantle of leadership on the shoulders of gang members, and rap singers, some of whom use profanity and denigrate women.... Well, they don't lead me," Hooks said.
Hooks, a lawyer, former judge, and Baptist preacher, took over as executive director of the NAACP in 1977.