Are tea party activists racist? The NAACP's annual conference said Tuesday night that some members are, issuing a resolution that "calls on the tea party and all people of good will to repudiate the racist element and activities within the tea party."
But Tim Scott, who has embraced the movement in his bid to become the first black Republican from the Deep South to serve in Congress since Reconstruction, disagreed.
"I believe that the NAACP is making a grave mistake in stereotyping a diverse group of Americans who care deeply about their country and who contribute their time, energy and resources to make a difference," Scott said Tuesday.
Scott was one of several Republicans who vied for the tea party's blessing during last month's nine-way contest for the 1st Congressional District GOP nomination.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted the resolution after a private debate during its annual convention in Kansas City, Mo.
"I hope it will empower the tea party to actually look at itself and see that there are those who are noticing things that I think most tea partiers don't want," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau.
Ahead of the debate, NAACP President Ben Jealous said: "We don't have a problem with the tea party's existence. We have an issue with their acceptance and welcoming of white supremacists into their organizations."
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP (no relation to Tim Scott) said that most tea party members seem genuinely concerned about the country and its deficit. "I also thought it opened the door for a lot of folks who are dissatisfied with even the mere thought of having a president of the United States who is black. Some of the behavior that has happened since then is unprecedented," she said.
Mike Murphree, a former Dorchester County councilman who currently chairs the Charleston Tea Party, said his organization isn't racist. One of its 12 board members is black.
"The whole intention of the tea party movement is to tell people we're taxed enough already. We want everyone to participate," he said.
While a few actions -- such as a March incident in Washington in which three congressmen said some tea party activists yelled a racial epithet as they walked to the Capitol -- have made news, Murphree said he has no tolerance for them.
"Find me somebody who did it and I'll put a foot in their behind and run them off," he said. "If you're a conservative and you believe in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and you want your country to be the best it can be, then come join me."
Dot Scott said she is not surprised that Tim Scott is defending the tea party, but she noted she has never seen another black person in his campaign ads.
"Tim's position is probably so far off where African-Americans think that if we say it's up, Tim would say it's down," she said. "Tim is definitely a gem for the Republican Party because when you can get an African-American male who is so far off where the rest of the African-Americans are, the majority, he becomes an asset."
Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, seen here in a 2008 file photo, blasted the tea party during the NAACP's annual convention in Kansas City, saying it's dividing the country and "represents a small and dying demographic."×