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Barack Obama Addresses Largest US Civil Rights Organization


In a speech to the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) on July 14, US Democratic Party presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama pledged to fight for civil rights if he is elected president. But he called on African-Americans to take personal responsibility in solving their problems. VOA's Chris Simkins has the story.

In his speech to the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, Senator Obama said he would continue the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by working to expand opportunity for all Americans, including blacks. He said if elected president, he would fight to increase federal funding for education, health care and the fight against poverty.

But he also said personal responsibility is key.

"No matter how much money we invest in our communities, how many 10-point plans we propose, how many government programs we launch - none of it will make a difference at least not enough of a difference if at the same time we do not seize more responsibility in our own lives," Obama said.

He said black men need to take more responsibility for keeping their families together and raising their children. His speech was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation. But the comments are controversial among black leaders. Some say Obama should focus on government programs to help the black community. One in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 23 are in prison. And black families on average earn one-third less than white families. The debate boiled over last week.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson was overheard, during a break on a TV interview program, making inflammatory remarks about Obama. He criticized the candidate's view that President Bush's faith-based initiatives should be continued.

"See Barack has been talking down to black people on his faith based (programs). I want to cut his (expletive) off," Jackson said.

Jackson was a contender for the democratic party's nomination in 1984 and 1988. He later apologized for the comments.

But his comments exposed a rift between older civil rights leaders like Jackson and younger moderates like Obama.

The presumptive Democratic nominee said he would not back down.

"I know there are some who have been saying I have been too tough talking about responsibility," Obama said. "NAACP, I am here to report I am not going to stop talking about it. "

Political analyst Stephen Hess with the Brookings Institution in Washington says Obama is still an attractive candidate to voters.

"This [the presidency] is a job to represent all of the people," Hess said. "Obama has that cast, and that is where he is coming from as opposed to previous leaders who clearly came up through black politics and the civil rights movement."

NAACP member Steve Reece says all African-Americans should support Obama.

"I do not think Obama can be elected without the civil rights community, and I do not think the civil rights community can enjoy the success without Obama," Reece said.

Political analysts say, despite the controversy, Obama will win more than 90 percent of the black vote in November.

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