Reiterating a theme that has permeated the NAACP's 91st annual convention, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery yesterday urged members of the nation's oldest civil rights group to keep fighting injustice.
Lowery, 78, past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addressed several hundred people at an afternoon luncheon at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
"One thing about reaching a senior status, you don't give a damn," Lowery said yesterday, explaining that he would exceed the 15 minutes he had been allotted to speak. "If you have to leave, leave. I've been walked out on [by] better audiences than this."
Lowery injected humor - and a few off-color remarks about whites - into his speech.
"It's time for us to move to another mountain," Lowery said. "We've been on a long and tedious journey. ... It's all right to take a little respite, a little retreat, but you've been messing around on this hill of tokenism too long. We've done well, in both cogitation and agitation, but lately we've been doing more cogitating than agitating."
He talked about the need to raise the minimum wage, the widening disparity in income between whites and blacks, and inadequate schools.
"We need to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage," Lowery said. "I don't want no minimum anything. I don't want no minimum health, no minimum car, no minimum house, no minimum hug. I tell my wife, 'I don't want no minimum sugar.'"
He talked about Atlanta, where he said officials tore down a stadium before it was paid for.
"I don't have anything against stadiums," Lowery said. "But something's wrong with our values and our priorities when we can build stadiums to house millionaires and can't build homes for the homeless and schools for our schoolchildren."
Lowery's speech was interrupted often by applause. Some stood as they clapped for the former associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and ex-president of the SCLC, which King helped launch.
Lowery said blacks must stop being complacent and apathetic, and must work to build strong families and communities. He said blacks should continue to vote, even if their candidates don't always win.
"We must move from this mountain of complacency, apathy and disgust," Lowery said. "I know our disgust. I know our disappointments. I'm tired. One party takes us for granted and the other one just takes us. But we must get infuriated and start a movement."
Lowery tried to motivate his audience through the examples of star golfer Tiger Woods and tennis sensations Venus and Serena Williams. On Saturday, Venus Williams became the second black woman to win the Wimbledon title and later teamed up with Serena to become the first sisters to capture the women's doubles championship.
"He had to get up to play before the sun was up," Lowery said of Woods, golf's No. 1 player. "He was diligent, steady, and practice made Tiger Woods what he is today."
Of the Williams sisters, Lowery said: "You see them at the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but you've forgotten about the ghetto court. They labored, they worked, they sweated, they got up and sacrificed."
President Clinton is to address the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this morning. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson will deliver the keynote address for the organization's Freedom Fund Dinner tonight at the Baltimore Convention Center Ballroom.