President’s speech to the NAACPOfficial Transcript
President Bush acknowledged persistent racism in America and lamented the Republican Party’s bumpy relations with black voters as he addressed the NAACP’s annual convention Thursday for the first time in his presidency.
“I understand that racism still lingers in America,” Bush told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It’s a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party.”
That line generated boisterous applause and cheers from the thousands in the audience, which generally gave the president a polite, reserved reception.
“I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historical ties with the African-American community,” Bush said. “For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote, and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party.”
Most of the president’s remarks were greeted with smatterings of applause, but many in the convention center stood up to clap when he urged the Senate to renew a landmark civil rights law passed in the 1960s to stop racist voting practices in the South.
Bush, joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and chief political adviser Karl Rove, spoke as the Senate debated a bill to approve a 25-year extension of expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The House has passed the bill, and the Senate was expected to pass it quickly, propelled by a Republican push to increase the party’s credibility with minorities.
For five years in a row, Bush has declined invitations to address the NAACP convention. This year, he said yes. He was introduced by NAACP head Bruce Gordon.
Bush said he saw his attendance at the convention as a moment of opportunity to celebrate the civil rights movement and the accomplishments of the NAACP.
“I come from a family committed to civil rights,” Bush said. “My faith tells me that we are all children of God—equally loved, equally cherished, equally entitled to the rights He grants us all.
“For nearly 200 years, our nation failed the test of extending the blessings of liberty to African-Americans. Slavery was legal for nearly 100 years, and discrimination legal in many places for nearly 100 years more.”
Bush also recalled his visit in June to Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn., with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. While in Memphis, the two made an unscheduled stop at the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Bush and Koizumi emerged from a tour to stand on the spot on the motel balcony where King was slain.