Washington (CNN) - The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has passed a resolution that condemns what it feels is rampant racism in the Tea Party movement. Members passed the measure on Tuesday at the NAACP's 101st annual convention being held in Kansas City, Missouri.
Tea Party activists have swiftly denounced the action as unfounded and unfair.
The resolution pits the nation's oldest civil rights organization, with a storied history of wins on behalf of racial justice, against a grassroots conservative movement that has won some recent political races and is flexing its muscle in Republican circles.
“We take no issue with the Tea Party. We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy,” NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous said in a statement.
“We take issue with the Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” Jealous added.
Leaders of the conservative movement reacted to the NAACP action with swift and angry derision.
“I am disinclined to take lectures on racial sensitivity from a group that insists on calling black people, ‘Colored,’” Mark Williams, national spokesman of the Tea Party Express, told CNN. “The Tea Party [movement] is about the constitution of this country…[and] ensuring equality for each and every individual human being.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite, said the charge from the NAACP is “false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand.”
“To be unjustly accused of association with what Reagan so aptly called that ‘legacy of evil’ is a traumatizing experience, and one of which the honest, freedom-loving patriots of the Tea Party movement are truly undeserving,” she wrote in a posting on her Facebook page Tuesday night.
Palin said the only purpose of such an accusation is to dissuade Americans from joining the Tea Party, a movement she said is “motivated by love of country and all that is good and honest about our proud and diverse nation.”
But NAACP leaders feel there is ample evidence of racism to prove Palin and other Tea Party racism deniers wrong. Hilary Shelton is the NAACP director of its Washington bureau and senior vice-president for advocacy and policy. In an interview with CNN he laid out what the group feels is the proof.
“After observing Tea Party activities throughout the country – which culminated with the outrageous and racist behavior of Tea Party activists during the historic congressional vote to pass into law comprehensive healthcare legislation – the NAACP began more closely investigating the Tea Party. Specifically as it was reported to us that Tea Party activists spat on [Congressman] John Lewis, a veteran civil rights activist and associate to Dr. Martin Luther King, and called Congressman Emanuel Cleaver the 'N-word' and called [Congressman] Barney Frank … one of the first openly gay members of Congress, the "F-word," Shelton said.
Other claims from the NAACP: Tea Party activists have engaged in racist behavior, for example, by waving signs that degrade African-Americans and President Obama, in particular, and a number of activists think that issues of importance to African-Americans get too much attention.
Shelton told CNN that “rather than talking about the real issues of these incidents that have happened … [activists] wind up blaming the messenger.
“It seems like its denial ... that allows them to focus on themselves,” Shelton said.
Many Tea Party leaders have, in fact, publicly denounced elements of prejudice. During a May 6 interview on ABC’s daytime program, “The View,” Amy Kremer, current chairman of the Tea Party Express, pointedly looked into the camera and told any prejudiced followers, “This is not a racist movement. We don’t want you here. Go away if that’s what you’re about. We’re about the fiscal issues and about being American.”
Williams told CNN, “We’ve had these people show up on the fringes of our group … because we attract TV cameras. What these people all universally learn, the racist groups included, is that they’re not welcome.”
Other Tea Party leaders have also publicly spoken out against racism in their movement.
While Shelton acknowledged the effort from “a few” leaders, he told CNN that the level of repudiation is not stopping displays of racism from many Tea Party followers.
“Not only are some elements of the Tea Party movement being resistant to that [message of repudiation] but we’ve seen some elements acting out, in some cases, in a violently racist behavior. And that is what we want to see stop,” Shelton said.
Shelton cited the movement’s loose-knit patchwork of small, local groups that might not tow the line of Tea Party leaders.