Banquet honors local leaders

By Aisha I. Jefferson

President Bush is in the "wrong gulf fighting a war we can't win," while thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina in America's gulf are suffering and dying needlessly, the director of the NAACP's Washington bureau Hilary O. Shelton told Clayton County members Saturday night.

Shelton, who key-noted the 16th annual Freedom Fund Banquet, said he was "deeply distressed" to see the pictures in New Orleans.

"There were boatloads of the haves carried out, some with mint juleps in their hands, as the have-nots clung onto trees" to avoid drowning, he told the several hundred attending the banquet at Christian Fellowship Baptist Church.

Shelton charged that the people "saw no one coming to their rescue" for days and when $52 billion was appropriated, much of it went to friends of the president like the Haliburton Corp. which has had huge contracts in Iraq.

He also said the relief money excluded any provisions for minority contractors or veterans to have a chance at the cleanup and rebuilding.

Shelton, an attorney who heads the legislative and national policy division for the half-a-million-member organization, said the president used the Sept. 11 attack as justification for a number of things, including keeping people in prison without a trial, wiretapping "and spying on you," including "spying on your library reading material."

Shelton also conceded that John Roberts is probably going to be confirmed as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court but he urged local NAACP members to oppose the nomination, charging that he opposed the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other equal protection mechanisms, and said his confirmation "will roll back 40 years of Civil Rights" in America.

"When we misallocate our resources for war ventures, as Dr. King called them, then we don't focus on the real issue of our society domestically," Shelton later said in a brief interview before rushing to make a plane back to Washington.

The banquet drew a variety of local officials, statewide politicians and key NAACP leaders from neighboring Henry County and from the state. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young drew a standing ovation as he arrived at the banquet as an unexpected visitor.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph brought a proclamation from the County Commission that called the civil rights organization "a beacon of hope for positive change."

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske beamed as local NAACP President Dexter Matthews presented him with the 2005 Outstanding Service Award. Teske was one of those recognized during the banquet.

"Of all of the awards that I've ever received, and of any award that I'll receive in the future, this is the most prestigious for me," Teske said at the conclusion of the event. "It's an honor to be thought of as a leader within a civil rights organization."

Eloise Scott Archibald, local NAACP chairwoman of the membership committee, also was a 2005 Outstanding Service Award recipient. Archibald said she felt great about her recognition, as if her hard work paid off.

"My motto is if 'I can just help somebody then my living will not be in vain,'" she said. "Everyone should follow that ... if you want change, you have to make change."

The importance of Clayton County to next year's election was underscored when Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor attended. Another gubernatorial hopeful, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, sent a proclamation.

State NAACP President Walter Butler was also in attendance.

Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, who emceed the event attended by residents of all ages, said Shelton's remarks "reminded us of a stark reality of where we are."

"I thought it was a really great event," Scott said.

Founded in 1909, by a racially diverse group of activists who initially called themselves the National Negro Committee, the NAACP is the country's oldest civil rights organization.

The Clayton County branch was formed in 1986 and is one of 2,200 membership units.

The presidents who have served since its creation have been the late James Jackson who served until his death in 1990, the Rev. Barron Banks as acting president until Ben Marsh was chosen and served for two years. After Marsh, serving were Oscar Blalock (1992-1994), William Mouzon (1994-1996), the Rev. Joseph Wheeler (1996-2002) and Dexter Matthews, the current president who has served since 2002.