KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton sought Wednesday to steer attention away from an NAACP resolution condemning racism within the tea party movement, saying focus should remain on jobs and an upcoming march in Washington.
Jackson deflected questions about the resolution at a news conference during the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Kansas City.
"We will not be diverted or otherwise distracted by any other message except putting America back to work," Jackson said a day after convention delegates approved the resolution. "We want jobs and justice and peace."
Sharpton was a little more direct, saying issues surrounding the tea party go beyond claims of racism. He said the civil rights movement sought to pressure the federal government to step in when states were enforcing segregation laws, and the tea party's focus on states' rights puts people at risk.
"They talk about restoring dignity. They are really talking about restoring a time before the federal government intervened and protected the rights of people," Sharpton said.
He noted Arizona's new law that directs local and state law enforcement to take on federal duties by questioning people about their immigration status, after they've been stopped for another crime, if there's reason to suspect they're in the U.S. illegally.
"There clearly are some racial leaves in their tea bag," Sharpton said. "But this is not just about race. It is about how you see government."
The resolution, approved Tuesday by delegates attending the conference, calls on tea party activists and others to "repudiate the racist element and activities" within the political movement. Tea party organizers quickly disputed its claims of racism and asked the NAACP to withdraw the resolution.
Mark Williams, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, said Wednesday it was unfortunate that the NAACP has chosen to "profiteer off race-baiting and fear mongering" when it could be doing so much to help the black community.
He also questioned the motives of Sharpton, Jackson and NAACP officials, suggesting they were taking advantage of the publicity the resolution generated.
"I'm not surprised they are jumping into the fray here because the NAACP just tapped a Gulf oil well full of cash contributions that will arrive from this resolution," Williams said. "And I know Al and Jesse want their piece of it. The slave traders of the 16th century should have been as good at exploiting Africans as these people are, because it's just disgusting."
When asked about the tea party, Jackson talked about jobs. He said the country has a plan for fixing other problems, but not for helping the millions who are without jobs — a disproportionate number of them minorities.
Sharpton stressed the Oct. 2 march in Washington, saying it would remind Congress and President Barack Obama about the challenges facing minority neighborhoods. NAACP President Ben Jealous said more than 150 organizations were involved, including civil rights, religious and labor groups.
Civil rights leaders also are planning a smaller event on Aug. 28 at the site where the Martin Luther King Jr. monument will be unveiled next year. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck also is planning a rally in Washington on the anniversary of King's 1963 march on the nation's capital, which was capped with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.