KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Two prominent black leaders downplayed criticism of the tea party movement Wednesday after conservatives nationwide took aim at an NAACP resolution alleging elements of tea party racism.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. told reporters in Kansas City that the focus on the tea party was a diversion from more important issues, while NAACP president Ben Jealous said the resolution was just a small part of a bigger agenda and blamed the media for focusing too much on the tea party movement.
"I give a 42-page speech. Half a page is focused on the tea party," Jealous said. "We need the media to pay attention to the issues that are most important to this country" such as jobs, education and crime.
Conservatives reacted angrily after learning of the resolution, approved by delegates at the NAACP's national convention this week in Kansas City.
"The charge that Tea Party Americans judge people by the color of their skin is false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand," former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said in a statement on a Facebook page.
Columnist Cynthia Tucker, who is black, called the resolution "inappropriate, narrow-minded and divisive," while Timothy Johnson of the Frederick Douglass Foundation said "the NAACP no longer speaks for the average African-American... the Tea Party movement has nothing to do with race."
An NAACP spokesman said the exact words of the tea party resolution were not available Wednesday evening, and might not be available until October, when the NAACP board meets to consider ratifying the language.
But spokesman Chris Fleming said: "We're not condemning the tea party at all. ... We're condemning some racist elements within the movement."
The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said tea partiers emphasized states' rights, which he said would lead to more discrimination against minorities. But he said the civil rights community should respond to the tea party movement with its own activities and marches.