The NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrapped up it's 94th annual convention in Miami, Florida Thursday with a warning to U.S. Democratic presidential candidates not to take the African-American vote for granted in next year's presidential election. NAACP delegates also passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to support a multilateral peacekeeping force for Liberia.
NAACP Delegates had some surprise guests on the last day of their convention on Miami Beach. Three Democratic Party presidential candidates, who had skipped a "candidates forum" on Monday, showed up to ask the delegates forgiveness, and to pledge support for causes supported by the NAACP.
The three, Connecticut Senator, Joseph Lieberman, Missouri Representative, Richard Gephardt and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich had declined to participate in Monday's 'candidates forum," which was attended by the six other Democratic candidates, angering NAACP leaders and many of the more than 10,000 participants at the convention.
Mr. Kucinich said he missed Monday's session to vote on a health-care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Gephardt also apologized, saying he had a commitment he could not break. The Missouri Democrat, a former House Minority leader, received warm applause from the delegates pledging to uphold voting rights, maintain affirmative action and work to provide universal health care.
Mr. Lierberman asked the delegates for a 'second chance" saying his ties with the NAACP go back more than 40 years when he worked as a student volunteer to register voters in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement.
"Leadership also means being able to admit when you are wrong," he said. "Not coming Monday, I was wrong. I regret it and I apologize for it, and particularly so with regard to the NAACP."
On Monday the six other candidates, North Carolina Senator, John Edwards, Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry, former Illinois Senator Carol Mosely Braun, former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, Florida Senator Bob Graham and civil rights activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton addressed the convention and answered questions from delegates. The Democrat's all-but-certain opponent next year, President George Bush declined an invitation to attend.
African-Americans are an important constituency for the Democratic Party and Black voters vote overwhelmingly for Democratic Party candidates in national elections.
Speaking Thursday, NAACP President, Kweisi Mfume, said he appreciated the apologies given on Thursday and the appearances by other candidates earlier this week. However he says the NAACP will not throw its support to any one candidate at this time.
"We certainly heard their apologies. We appreciated the spirit in which they were given. Accordingly we have accepted them," he said. "But, in accepting those apologies, that does not guarantee people will particularly gravitate to what they are saying. We do not have that power. Those candidates really have to go back out across the nation to seek that support."
NAACP delegates also passed a resolution Thursday urging the U.S. government to send troops to participate in any future multilateral peacekeeping force in Liberia. NAACP President, Mfume says if the United States is willing to participate in peacekeeping operations in other parts of the world, it should also be willing to get involved in Liberia a country settled by freed American slaves in the 19th century.
"We have said for some time now that the African continent and the nations therein, out not to be treated differently from others," he said. If we are going to have peace plans and road maps and policy positions on different regions of the world then we ought to have them on Africa."
On Wednesday NAACP delegates met with diplomatic representatives of several Caribbean nations and pledged NAACP backing for Caribbean Community efforts to alleviate the effects of global trade rules, which some Caribbean leaders say hurt their economies. The NAACP delegates also pledged to work to change U.S. immigration rules that allow the U.S. government to deport criminals back to their countries of birth in the Caribbean. Law enforcement officials in the Caribbean say policy has led to a crime wave in the region.