Bush Addresses NAACP Convention

And Bush’s own father, then Vice President George Bush, received a chorus of boos when he addressed the group in 1983. The following year, he and President Ronald Reagan declined invitations to speak at the convention.

As a presidential candidate in 1988, however, Vice President Bush was well-received at the annual meeting where he implicitly criticized his own administration’s sensitivity on racial issues.

“For our nation, there is no denying … that racism, despite all the progress, still exists today,” he said. “For my party, there is no escaping the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln.”

‘A Harder Row to Hoe’

According to Mfume, Bush “has a harder row to hoe” with African-American voters than his Democratic opponent this year “because he has been defined by others.”

Mfume was also critical of Bush for not speaking out during the primary season about the controversy surrounding the flying of the Confederate flag over South Carolina’s state capitol. The NAACP led the effort to have the symbol removed. The governor said only that the issue was a matter of states’ rights.

“Leadership in a different sense was needed,” Mfume insisted.

He also added that announcing his intent to name retired Gen. Colin Powell as Secretary of State if elected would be “a rather bold and, I think, smart move,” and could further enhance Bush’s support among African-Americans voters.

But even as Bush was reaching out to the predominantly Democratic voting bloc today, there was a pointed reminder that important differences remain: As the governor was being introduced this afternoon, several audience members raised signs reading, “Abolish the racist death penalty,” and chanted, “Remember Gary Graham!” referring to the controversial case of an African-American man who was convicted of murder and executed in Texas earlier this year. They were escorted out by security.

ABCNEWS’ Kendra Gahagan, John Berman and Carter M. Yang contributed to this report.

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