ATLANTA -- Civil rights activism has failed to win economic justice for African-Americans -- a goal NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said yesterday "has been largely unaddressed and unfulfilled" by the movement.
The growing gap between rich and poor Americans has left proportionally more blacks unemployed and destitute than 30 years ago, he said.
"Since the heady days of the 1960s, too many have concentrated on enriching too few," Bond told more than 3,500 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the group's annual convention.
"The large numbers of working-class black Americans have seen their plight ignored, their incomes shrink and their jobs disappear," he said.
Bond called on the NAACP to fight to save affirmative action and to link forces with other ethnic groups. "There are no gender, ethnic or racial barriers to membership in the NAACP," he said.
In his hourlong talk, Bond said the organization must renew its focus on legislation and oust Congress members who are unfriendly on civil rights issues.
Referring to a recently released NAACP report grading Congress members on key legislative actions, Bond said, "I don't have to tell you that a majority of them failed.
"When I was a schoolboy, someone who failed as badly as some of these people did would have to repeat a grade.
"But these aren't schoolboys -- they are congressmen and women. They don't need to be held back. They need to be expelled."
Speaking on the second day of the Baltimore-based organization's six-day convention, Bond also discussed AIDS, calling it a "black epidemic."
The issue was addressed earlier in the day when NAACP President Kweisi Mfume led about 50 AIDS activists on a march through downtown Atlanta.
Carrying a banner and chanting, "No progress, no peace," the group walked for about an hour through the deserted early-morning city streets.
"We're involved in a brand-new civil rights movement," Denise Stokes, an Atlanta-based AIDS activist, said before the march. "It's not about the color of our skin and the right to live in dignity. It's about the right to live -- period."
AIDS became the focus of the health walk -- a regular feature of the convention -- after recently released statistics showed that the virus is the leading cause of death among blacks ages 25 to 44, said Caya Lewis, NAACP health coordinator.
In recent news reports, critics have linked the swelling AIDS rate to a lack of leadership on the issue in the black community -- leadership that they said perceived AIDS as a gay white male disease.
"HIV and AIDS are increasingly becoming a disease of colored people," Lewis said. "We want to tell the people of Atlanta and the world that we want action on this issue."
But Bond argued that the NAACP has addressed the issue of AIDS since 1987. And the organization has promoted condom-distribution and needle-exchange programs to help stem the disease among blacks, Mfume said.
Youth members march
fTC After the AIDS march, youth members marched to call for an end to violence in their communities. They also held discussions on recruiting young people and maintaining activism against competing demands such as college studies.
Pub Date: 7/13/98