Convention's opening speaker suggested reinstating law that kept blacks from voting

WASHINGTON -- Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo may have fired up the most zealous conservatives at the first ever National Tea Party Convention, but he hasn't pleased the renowned civil rights group NAACP.

Speaking before a crowd of 600 delegates in Nashville, Tennessee, Tancredo fired away at "the cult of multiculturalism" and claimed President Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country," according to ABC News.

The historical context of Tancredo's comments is important. As the NAACP notes on its Web site, "literacy tests and poll taxes systematically denied African American people their constitutional rights" for nearly a century following the abolition of slavery in 1870.

It wasn't until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act allowed African Americans to fully participate in the political process.

Hilary Shelton, Washington Director of NAACP, blasted Tancredo's remarks as "outrageous" and "insidious" in an interview with Raw Story. "This is the politics of denigration," he said.

Tancredo also said the United States "put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House ... Barack Hussein Obama." ABC reported that his speech "received enthusiastic applause at times."

Sheldon, who is also NAACP's Senior Vice Preident for Advocacy and Policy, assailed Tancredo's use of Obama's middle name as a "deliberate attempt" to subliminally "tie him to Saddam Hussein" as a way of appealing to voter fears. "Why else would he use it?" he said.

"It's a strategy of desperation," Sheldon said, alleging that some conservative leaders are purposefully targeting Obama's character because they prefer not to debate policy.

Though he stopped short of labeling him a racist, Shelton said Tancredo's aim -- and the aim of Tea Party leaders -- is to undermine the entire Democratic Party by targeting the president.

"They're not debating his ideas and platform," he said. "Their approach is to denigrate his character, because his policies are policies that millions of Americans support."

Should Tancredo apologize? "If he's thoughtful he would," Sheldon told Raw Story.

Founded in 1909, NAACP -- short for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- is among the oldest and most powerful civil rights groups in the country.

Tancredo did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Raw Story.

Mark Skoda, a businessman and spokesman for the Tea Party convention, mildly criticized the former Congressman's remarks. "It doesn't further the dialogue," he said, according to CNN.

Michael B. Keegan, president of the liberal advocacy group People For The American Way, called Tancredo's words "deeply offensive" and said they "embodied the worst of today's Republican Party."

"He would be nothing more than a bad joke if he did not represent a corrosive spirit that is far too prevalent in our politics today," Keegan added.

The Tennessee convention's kickoff included a "modified American flag to serve as a symbol for the Tea Party movement," according to its creator, founder Jeffrey McQueen.

The opening-night speaker at first ever National Tea Party Convention ripped into President Obama, Sen. John McCain and "the cult of multiculturalism," asserting that Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."