NAACP vs. National Urban League: What’s the Difference?

NAACP vs. National Urban League: What’s the Difference?


The week was good for Mitt Romney.

The Republican presidential nominee may have stepped deep in volatile racial waters this week with his dramatic appearance before NAACP conventioneers and Drudge Report-fueled rumors about former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as a running mate, but he emerged fairly unscathed.  Red meaty conservatives were rushing to his defense, FOX News was looping his “brave” move in Houston, and the right-wing talk-showing intelligentsia was giving him new props for taking on President Obama’s most loyal base.

Meanwhile, the incumbent President found mired in doubt and controversy when he opted out of, arguably, the largest Black political event of the year. While the NAACP itself attempted to put a happy face on the affair, many in the blogosphere and Twitterverse were hot with speculation, accusing the President of avoiding the event out of fear he would look “too Black.”

Yet, President Obama is scheduled to deliver the opening address at the National Urban League’s 2012 Conference in New Orleans, another large and major African American civil rights organization led by the city’s former Mayor Marc Morial.

That the President chose to speak at the Urban League conference over the NAACP convention adds a new, peculiar twist to the controversy.  He says he couldn’t make the NAACP due to the oldest of political-tricks-in-the-book: the convenient “scheduling conflict.”  But, a glance at POTUS’ schedule that day revealed a relatively light day absent public appearances.

So, what makes the Urban League different from the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization?

Critics point to the perception that the Urban League is much more middle class and “elite” compared to the more grassroots NAACP, thereby continuing a controversial narrative that the President only interfaces with a certain “class” of African Americans.  “The National Urban League is indeed popular among young urban professionals, who are middle class and upwardly mobile, which is key to the President’s message about being the man for the middle class,” observed Jeneba Ghatt, a lawyer and Politic365 Senior Contributor.

“As to the NAACP, it is working on repairing its image that it’s an organization that has strayed from its historical core mission. There have been a few missteps along the way such as the Shirley Sherrod debacle and then with the organization endorsing the president’s support of gay marriage. The organization itself is struggling on rebrand and perhaps the President doesn’t want to be associated with that.”

A “few missteps” could be an understatement as the organization struggles to find balance, relevance and footing on a rapidly transforming political landscape.

University of Mississippi political scientist and Politic365 contributor Marvin King agrees, but also points out that it’s simply a given that the President would choose the NUL.  “Given the state of the economy, it makes perfect sense that Obama would attend the National Urban League convention. The NUL’s primary focus is on economic empowerment and that mission is most consistent with Obama’s ‘Forward’ campaign this fall,” argues King.

Many Democratic strategists expressed concern that the President’s failure to show up at one of the largest Black political events of the year further erodes his Black support at a time when he needs it.  That same YouGov poll shows the President with only 78% of African Americans supporting him – while 8% express support for Romney and 10% say they are “unsure.”

The President will, again, need enormous Black support in the high 90 percentile range to win re-election.

“Obama is like an older White person who doesn’t know how to handle the issue of race,” quips Raynard Jackson, a noted Black Republican strategist and commentator and public relations executive. “He’s making a calculation that if I associate with the Black community too much, it’s going to hurt me.”

Still, NAACP spokesperson Ben Wrobel seemed unfazed by the President’s absence, pointing to the fact that he did send Vice President Joe Biden in his place. “We understand the President is very busy and has a very demanding calendar.  We were very pleased with the Vice President’s appearance.”

When asked about President Obama choosing the NUL over the NAACP, Wrobel only said that attendees at the convention “wished he had been there, but understand his commitments.”

Longtime Black Republican commentator and strategist Raynard Jackson expressed disappointment that the NAACP was giving the President a “pass” while everyone in politics recognized it was a slap in the face.

“I’m not angry that he didn’t show up,” says Jackson. “I’m angry that we [Black people] keep giving him a pass.  We are so emotional that we are blinded from the substance.”


  1. Charles, did you or any of the other contributors bother yourselves with asking individuals with either the NAACP or NUL about real and perceived differences (if any) between the two organizations, or whether a rivalry exists between them? Are any of you active members of either organization to function as reliable voices for what each organization represents?

    I believe most African-American voters understand the symbolism of presidential candidates appearing before either group in an election year — especially the NAACP because of its relatively higher profile as a civil rights organization. The NAACP has a much bigger, more diverse membership than the NUL. But it's not as if Obama has never spoken at a NAACP convention. Obama has met with the NAACP's leaders outside of its annual conventions — which I think is a far more reliable sign of an elected official's respect for a group. Speaking before an annual convention is essentially a gratuitous photo op.

    And that's how Romney's appearance before the NAACP comes off: as a cynical ploy. Only the Republican partisan could consider Romney's speech a success, for it's clear his automaton-like recital of talking points failed to connect with the audience. What's worse is it's a safe bet Romney will not meet with or engage NAACP or NUL leaders for a serious discussion on policy. The question you should be asking is why Romney's only gesture to Af-Am voters likely to be a speech at the NAACP convention.

  2. You have one problem dear William: Romney actually bothered to show up — he was there. Of course it was a race ploy — really? By a Republican? No — I can't believe it. Where was the President? Being interviewed by Charlie Rose. A TV interview was more important than the oldest most important civil rights group is history? Hanging with Charlie Rose was more important than the work of Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins? They lied to the NAACP when they said there was a scheduling issue. Everyone at the convention knew it. Stop making excuses and let's keep it real.

  3. I would just like to say, that I think that the NAACP along with the NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE are not for black people! the level of blatant stupidity among these organizations is beyond my comprehension.

    they continue to push their stupid agendas toward ”MINORITIES” thus smothering what should be done for black people! We should empower ourselves’ and by doing so ‘we cannot continue to look out for (everybody) because you can be rest assured these other so-called minority groups are just looking out for themselves. WE AS BLACK PEOPLE SHOULD DENOUNCE these organizations right along with their blatant baffoonery!!!!!!!!!