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NEW ORLEANS (AP) – NAACP president Kweisi Mfume invoked memories of the civil rights group’s founding in 1909 as he asked its members Monday to recommit themselves to fighting for racial equality.

“We found a way to help a nation divided against itself through the confusion and turbulence of the 1960s,” Mfume said in his keynote address to the NAACP’s 92nd annual convention. “It is now a matter of having still yet a long way to go.”

Speaking to about 4,800 people at a packed convention center hall, Mfume mentioned a lengthy list of issues on which he wants to see progress.

They include making health care affordable to everyone, cleaning up the environment, reforming the electoral system, ending the AIDS epidemic, removing the Confederate flag from public places and stopping hate crimes.

Mfume said Sunday that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also is preparing to sue the paint industry in an effort to hold it accountable for health problems linked to lead in paint. He didn’t say which companies would be sued and made no mention of that effort in his speech.

If NAACP members feel they face a difficult task now, they should remember the obstacles the group has already overcome, Mfume said.

“Can you imagine 1909?” he asked.

About the time Mfume spoke on Monday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reacted sharply to NAACP board chairman Julian Bond’s attack on the Bush administration in his speech to the convention Sunday night.

Bush has “appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and he picked Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection,” Bond said.

Fleischer said Bond’s remarks were “excessive.”

“The comments made by Mr. Bond are another reminder about why the tone in Washington needs to be changed,” Fleischer said.

The spokesman added that “those remarks were not made under Kweisi Mfume’s leadership, when Kweisi Mfume was president of the NAACP.”

A reporter reminded Fleischer that Mfume is still the NAACP president, but the spokesman seemed not to notice that he misspoke.

Bond assailed the civil rights records of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The administration’s tax cut and its faith-based initiative, which would allow government funds to flow to churches, mosques and synagogues that seek to ease social woes, were also targets of criticism.

Bush has asserted that church-based groups receiving government funds should be able to refuse employment to people outside their religion. Critics, including Bond, contend this could amount to government-funded discrimination.

Bond also said the Bush administration’s tax cut “placed funding for important programs in a lockbox, raiding the treasury for a decade, closing the door on government aid for children, for schools, for the poor.”

“This is government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.”

Neither Bond nor Mfume has met with Bush since he took office in January. However, Bush addressed the convention through a videotaped greeting on Monday.

“We must continue our work to make sure that my party keeps faith with the memory of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass,” Bush said.

Bush also said he had selected a diverse and well-qualified group of advisers including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Education Secretary Rod Paige, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.

The president also promised to improve the nation’s public schools and to work to end racial profiling.

“I welcome the president’s words, but I will welcome more his actions,” Mfume said.


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