WASHINGTON – Rod Paige, the nation's first black education secretary, condemned NAACP (search) leaders Thursday for saying some black groups are fronts for white conservatives.
"You do not own, and you are not the arbiters of, African-American authenticity," said Paige, who rose from segregated Mississippi to become President Bush's education chief.
Paige's comments, in a Wall Street Journal column titled "Naked Partisans," appeared on the same day Bush's challenger, Democrat John Kerry (search), was speaking at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Philadelphia. Bush is at odds with the NAACP and has not spoken to the civil rights group since his 2000 campaign.
Paige took aim at two NAACP leaders, chairman Julian Bond and president Kweisi Mfume, for what he called "hateful and untruthful rhetoric about Republicans and President Bush." At the convention, NAACP officials have described some black organizations as mouthpieces of white conservatives and have said Bush's education law disproportionately hurts minorities.
The No Child Left Behind (search) law of 2001, Paige said, is dedicated to closing the learning gap between blacks and whites and giving school choice to poor and minority students. Paige said he is a lifelong NAACP member, yet now sees the organization betraying its origins.
"The civil-rights movement has historically been multicultural, and many of its founders, including those who established the NAACP, were in fact white," Paige said. "I long for the day when our nation's education policy will not be grist for the partisan mill - when we can work together, black and white, rich and poor, for the sake of our children."