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Why we passed our Tea Party resolution

By Benjamin Jealous, Special to CNN
  • At annual convention, NAACP demanded Tea Party leaders repudiate "racist elements"

  • NAACP CEO was thanked by a man who's a member of both Tea Party and NAACP

  • Benjamin Jealous would like to see a world where that man "can feel comfortable in both"

  • Jealous: Tea Party must break silence, take stance against bigotry

Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization.

(CNN) -- This week at the NAACP annual convention, we passed over 75 resolutions. They addressed critical issues from education equity, to fixing our broken criminal justice and immigration systems, to our top priority: jobs, jobs, jobs.

One resolution, which was highlighted in my convention speech, created media frenzy: The unanimously passed resolution demanded that the leadership of the Tea Party repudiate its racist elements and make it clear that there is no space in the organization for bigotry.

It is unfortunate that at a time when our nation is reeling in the midst of one of the most devastating downturns in our economy since the Great Depression, the NAACP is compelled to deal with a disturbing, corrosive attack from the Tea Party.

Instead of joining us to repudiate racism, Tea Party leaders have attempted a tit for tat and demanded that we condemn the New Black Panther Party for reported hate speech. It is a false argument. Of course we condemn hate speech from anyone and any organization, including the New Black Panther Party. But that party is a mere flea compared to the influence and size of the Tea Party. And the New Black Panther Party is not a member of the NAACP. What we are asking the Tea Party to eschew is not the racism of some outside organization, but the bigotry within.

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After my speech, I was approached by a man named Chris, who asked that his last name not be used. He's a member of both the Tea Party and the NAACP. He thanked me for denouncing the racist elements of a party to which he is loyal. He explained that he felt increasingly uncomfortable within the Tea Party. We want Chris to live in a world where he can feel comfortable in both organizations.

Over 2000 delegates voted. The resolution was proposed by our Missouri State Conference, from the home state of the Council of Conservative Citizens, widely recognized as the linear descendant of the White Citizens Council. Their fealty to racism is not obscured.

Like, a website founded by former KKK leader Don Black, the Council celebrates its allegiance to and influence in the Tea Party. The avowed racist David Duke notes that thousands of Tea Party activists have urged him to run for president. When the Tea Party marches by, Duke thinks it's his fiesta.

Our members know too well the pain and the potential danger of white supremacist groups. Since our resolution was publicized, a number of our branches and our corporate offices are reporting violent threats.

We have all seen the blatantly racist signs portraying President Obama as a monkey. We have seen the press conference with the civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis describing how he was spit on and called the N-word, or Rep. Barney Frank being called a vicious slur for gay men.

Dick Armey and other Tea Party leaders have not only refused to disavow the racism -- they have denied it.

With increased influence comes increased responsibility. It is long past time for Dick Armey and the Tea Party leadership to take a stance. Instead, they remain silent while many of the group's leaders are attacking the NAACP, calling a historically multiracial, anti-racist organization "racist." We are receiving death threats and other threats of violence for asking them to rout the violent, racist factions in their midst.

The NAACP is working hard to move our nation forward. We have joined with almost 200 other organizations representing people of all races, creeds and faiths to form a movement to pull America back together and put America back to work. "One Nation Working Together" is the antithesis to the bitter polarization being bred by the Tea Party and its ilk. It represents a clarion call to unity, to come together as a country.

On October 2 we will gather in Washington in a march for jobs, to demand a fair economy that works for all. We will embrace hope and possibility -- not hate.

As Americans seeking peace, harmony, and goodwill, we have too much at stake to be derailed by the rancor of racism. It's been said that "Evil flourishes with the silence of good men."

It is time for all people of goodwill -- and especially the leadership of the Tea Party -- to break the silence and make it clear that this type of vile bigotry is antithetical to the moral ethos of our nation.