SCLC Leader Clarifies Remarks

Matt Galnor, Florida Times-Union, Aug. 3

A top official with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Monday explained parts of a weekend speech in which he said Jacksonville was a “racist city” and called Mayor John Peyton a “redneck.”

The Rev. Charles Steele, an Alabama state senator and interim national vice president for the civil rights group, made the comments to about 100 people Saturday during a community kickoff for the five-day national convention in Jacksonville.

“Y’all got a mayor here that’s a redneck,” Steele said at The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship on the Westside.

Steele has been working with the African-American Contractors Association to lobby city leaders for a separate program to ensure African-American businesses get city work. Peyton campaigned last year on a small-business program with no race or gender goals, but the policy the City Council is expected to vote on next week keeps the goals for at least three years, with provisions to allow for a more aggressive program if the goals aren’t met.

On Monday, after a meeting with council President Elaine Brown, Steele clarified his weekend comments, saying he hasn’t met Peyton. Steele, though, used the same words and tact in speaking about the city’s proposal.

“Conceptually, the policy I have seen is redneckish and racist,” Steele said Monday at City Hall. “But there is hope.”

Peyton returned from vacation Monday evening and responded to Steele’s remarks.

“While I have never met Mr. Steele, I’m sure if he takes the time, he will discover Jacksonville is a progressive city with a very bright future,” Peyton said.

Steele spoke to the council last month and also met with Brown and council Vice President Kevin Hyde on July 23. On Monday, Steele also brought Anthony Robinson, president of the Washington-based Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, who had nine pages of comments and recommen- dations.

Brown said city staff will review the suggestions and get back with Robinson this week.

The conference’s 46th annual national convention concludes Wednesday morning with a prayer breakfast with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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