NAACP head urges blacks, Jews to unite against bigotry

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kweisi Mfume hopes that when the history of the 20th century is written, people will read how America became a more tolerant nation because blacks and Jews resolved recent conflicts to carve out a new future.

In a message to the Jewish community, the new leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said blacks and Jews must unite to end racism and bigotry.

"The NAACP cannot and should not go down this road alone," Mfume told about 300 leaders of the Anti-Defamation League last week in Washington, D.C. "The road toward racial reconciliation and nation-building is something that involves all of us.

"We ask that as we reach out to you, you reach back toward us."

Blacks and Jews, he said, must find new ways to deal with old problems, while replicating approaches that have worked before.

"But it also means being honest enough to recognize that where there are real and meaningful misunderstandings, that somehow or another we've got to agree to disagree, but to find in that disagreement an understanding of the other side," Mfume said.

Historically, Jews have been supportive of the NAACP — Jews joined with blacks to found the association — but have been alarmed by recent events.

Last year's Million Man March put a strain on black-Jewish relations when a host of mainstream black leaders agreed to share the stage with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has charged that Jews financed the slave trade and that Jews are "bloodsuckers" for not reinvesting in the black community, among other things.

Many in the NAACP leadership had expressed support for the march, though the group did not officially endorse it.

When Mfume, a former Demo-cratic congressman from Mary-land, took over the helm of the NAACP in February, Jewish groups hailed him as an important new partner capable of playing a healing role in black-Jewish relations.

It was Mfume, however, who first welcomed Farrakhan into the circle of Washington politics by forming a "compact" in 1993 between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Nation of Islam. The caucus later distanced itself from the agreement.

Mfume's message resonated last week with ADL leaders, who gave him a standing ovation.

"This country needs a strong, dynamic, vibrant NAACP, and we are delighted and we are proud that you reached out to us in your first few months of leadership," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL.

"We accept your challenge and your invitation for an open, dignified relationship."