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NAACP Leader: Confederate Flag's Fall Is An 'Extraordinary Moment'


The NAACP, the country's oldest civil rights organization, begins its annual convention in a week when the confederate battle flag was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse. The decision follows the racially motivated shooting of nine African-Americans at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The country was already in the midst of a debate about the state of race relations, sparked by allegations of police brutality against African-Americans. Joining us now is NAACP president, Cornell William Brooks. Mr. Brooks, welcome to the program.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: It is a delight to be here.

GOODWYN: Mr. Brooks, what were you feeling when you saw the Confederate flag come down?

BROOKS: Well, I was reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, who melodiously dreamed and spoke of the sons of former slaves and sons of slave owners coming together around a table of brotherhood. This is not such a day, but make no mistake - it is an extraordinary moment, and a moment that really speaks to the conscience of the country and in ways that are uplifting and that I believe will be long remembered.

GOODWYN: I was assigned to Charleston to cover the murders of Clementa Pinckney and the eight other members of Emanuel AME Church. And I talked to the black leadership in Charleston, and there was widespread feeling that taking down the Confederate flag was not enough. They wanted to see improvement in the public schools. They wanted to see the repeal of voting restrictions in and around voter ID laws. What are your thoughts?

BROOKS: The NAACP has never believed that symbolism is a substitute for substance. We have to take the power of this moment all across the country and make a renewed commitment to civil rights. We have seen, over the course of this last year, any number of civil rights tragedies and crises take place on the social justice landscape. We've seen hundreds of thousands of young people and folks who are young at heart, practitioners of democracy take to the streets in sit-ins and die-ins and demonstrations. We are in the midst of what is and should become a real movement for reform.

GOODWYN: The deaths of young black men at the hands of police has mobilized a new movement, Black Lives Matter. It's been largely organized on the Internet by young people, outside the traditional civil rights movement. What is the NAACP's relationship?

BROOKS: This is a multigenerational movement. Our relationship with Black Lives Matter, and with any number of youth groups, is one of partnership and collaboration. So we can't separate - we can't segregate this movement into young versus old. Tamir Rice was 12-years-old. Walter Scott was 50. Eric Garner was 50. Michael Brown was 18. Is this a matter of young and old or is this a matter of a multi-generational fight to bring about an end to racial profiling and racialized violence? I believe it to be the latter, not the former.

GOODWYN: And do you still feel that the NAACP is attracting the young black leaders it needs to to survive into the next hundred years?

BROOKS: Absolutely. And I believe that we - as well as we do it, we have to do it even better. We are a multigenerational civil rights organization - the nation's oldest civil rights organization - and we work very, very hard to attract young people. And when you look across the college campuses of this country - here's the thing I ask people to take note of - not only do our members tweet, but they show up, they demonstrate, they write legislation and they do so as young people as well as older people. We're in the fight of our lives. We can't cede any young people anywhere because we need them in this fight.

GOODWYN: Cornell William Brooks is president of the NAACP, which starts its annual convention today in the city of Philadelphia. Mr. Brooks, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you greatly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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