Usually held in the largest cities in the state, local chapter president Rev. Hugh Morris won the privilege of hosting it in Talladega this year in honor of the founding of the first NAACP chapter in the state 100 years ago. This year is also one marking a half-century since some of the most riveting events of the civil rights struggle -- George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door, the march on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have A Dream" speech, and the bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four little girls.
The convention here had none of the high drama or tension of the past. Perhaps the most notable part of the convention was the appearance of Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama's Republican governor whose views of a number of political issues are at odds with those expressed by delegates at the convention. But those differences did not appear to get in the way of the desire to meet each other, enjoy their time together and find common ground to try to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians.
Bentley arrived early for the Conference’s Armed Services and Veterans Affairs luncheon to have time to meet as many people as he could and pose for pictures with friends old and new.
State NAACP president Bernard Simelton, in his introduction of the governor, pointed out differences on several political issues, but noted he and the governor share a common faith in Christ, both are Air Force veterans, and both work tirelessly for the good of the state for no pay -- a nod to Bentley's commitment not to accept his state paycheck until Alabama’s unemployment level returns to normal.
Bentley echoed Simelton's comments, and went further.
He talked about being a student at the University of Alabama in 1963 during Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door.
Reflecting on it 50 years later, and being made welcome as Alabama’s governor at the state NAACP convention, Bentley said, "It's ironic, but it's great."
He also spoke about his determination to end segregation in the fraternity/sorority system at the university, a situation which came to the surface just a few weeks ago.
There were no earth-shaking incidents, statements or resolutions at this year’s convention, but that doesn’t mean it was not significant. While no one pretends we live in a perfect world, looking back on the past tells us progress in race relations has been made, and the cordial atmosphere between people with differing political ideas encourages hope for the future.
People can disagree without being disagreeable.
The opportunity for the governor and NAACP leaders to meet on friendly turf and to get to know each other a little better was valuable in its own right, even if they didn’t change their minds on political matters.