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Bush Defends Record in Rare Speech to Civil Rights Group - 2003-07-28


U.S. President George Bush made a rare appearance Monday before a group that represents black Americans. In a speech to the National Urban League, he defended his administration's record on issues ranging from housing, to education, to relations with Africa.

The president mixed talk of policy with recollections of his recent trip to Africa and praise for those who came to America in chains and taught the nation the true meaning of freedom. "By a plan only known to providence," he said, "the stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awake the conscience of America. The very people traded into slavery, helped to set America free."

He said their moral vision caused all Americans to examine their hearts, correct their constitution, and teach the lessons of equality to their children. "Our journey towards justice has not been easy," stressed Mr. Bush. "And it is not over. Yet I am confident that we will reach our destination."

Mr. Bush made no specific mention of civil rights laws or legal remedies to the long-standing complaints of minority groups. Instead, he focused on steps being taken by his administration that could have a major impact on the day to day lives of African-Americans. He said the economy is improving, and action is being taken to boost minority home ownership and provide better schools for all the nation's children. "We will not tire until we extend the great promise of America to every neighborhood in America," he said.

Mr. Bush talked not only about the prospects for improving America's troubled communities, but Africa's as well. He said the United States will continue to help African nations find prosperity through trade, battle hunger, combat AIDS, and find solutions to the continent's conflicts and civil wars.

In his remarks to the National Urban League's conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Bush reaffirmed his determination to help bring stability to Liberia. He noted he has ordered the Pentagon to position U-S troops nearby to support the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force through the Economic Community of West African States. "We are committed to working with ECOWAS to create the conditions in which lives can be saved and aid can be delivered."

Mr. Bush's speech got a polite welcome from the crowd of about 1500 delegates and invited guests, who appeared to listen carefully to his address. Overall, the atmosphere was respectful though hardly enthusiastic, except for a few minutes when he made the case for education reform.

The White House went into this speech well aware that President Bush has not been able so far to make great inroads with black voters. He got only nine percent of their vote in the last presidential election, but hopes to do better in 2004.

The speech to the National Urban league was an attempt to appeal to this important demographic group. But the president has made no effort yet to reach out to the largest civil rights organization in the nation , the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has not spoken to the NAACP's annual convention since taking office, and has not responded to repeated requests for a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.