Civil Rights Leaders React to Meeting With Obama Today

Civil rights leaders pick Obama's brain on wages and criminal justice reform

By Brentin Mock Feb 18, 2014

President Barack Obama met with the leaders of several major civil rights and legal organizations this afternoon to discuss issues pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, criminal justice reform and increasing wages. 

Speaking with one of the meeting’s attendees Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she told Colorlines that they discussed the initiatives the Obama administration has introduced in recent months, like prison sentencing reforms and the recent minimum wage hikes for federal contractors. They also discussed Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to end felony disenfranchisement laws and Obama’s granting of clemency to inmates who were imprisoned before the Fair Sentencing Act.  

But they also talked about some of the thornier issues that seem beyond the federal government’s purview. 

"[Obama] recognized the limitations of federal power in certain areas that govern people’s lives, that are governed by the states, like education, voting and marriage," Ifill told Colorlines. "What I see [the Obama administration] doing is operating in the spaces that they can control, around the federal system, and then using their bully pulpit for the things they can’t control."

Lorraine Miller, interm president of the NAACP, who was also in attendance said the group also talked about the Voting Rights Amendment Act and other election matters. In a statement from Miller for Colorlines, she said:

"In light of the social justice movements spanning North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and other states across the union, the NAACP hopes that civic engagement remains a priority in this administration through the 2014 and the 2016 elections. Civic participation by registering, and actually voting, reinforces the assembling and marching we are doing across the country on the key issues discussed today and other local and state level priorities."

Others at the meeting included Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Wade Henderson, who called it "a substantive conversation;" Urban League president Marc Morial, who presented Obama with a report called the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom; National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President Melanie Campbell; National Bar Association President Patricia Rosier, and National Action Network President Al Sharpton.

Sharpton gave remarks after the Roosevelt Room conference where he focused on their discussion around jobs, which he called, "a central concern in our community."

"It’s not just having a job," said Sharpton in post-meeting remarks, "but having wages that are guaranteed to provide for our families. We had full employment in the black community during slavery. We just didn’t have wages. So we don’t want just a job, we want a job that pays, and pays so that we can take care of our families."