BALTIMORE — Saying one more conservative vote on the Supreme Court could bring a setback for civil rights advocacy, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond implored 2,000 delegates to the group's convention to use their voting franchise this November.
Bond, who leads the 64-member NAACP national board, also said in a speech Sunday night that the group will continue its boycott against South Carolina even though the flag has been lowered from the statehouse dome.
"Where else on the face of the earth do the losers get to fly their flag as if they had won?" Bond asked.
Bond's speech served as the official start of the NAACP's 91st annual convention.
Under the convention banner "Race to Vote," more than NAACP 10,000 members are expected to attend the weeklong meeting.
Presidential politics will take center stage at the conference, when Republican Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore speak Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
Though the group can not endorse candidates, Bond said the act of voting is an important responsibility and that not voting could have dire consequences for civil rights supporters this year.
Bond noted that 5-4 decisions have prevailed in several key high court rulings and said "in 65 percent of these cases, the right wing-position carried the day."
"Your one vote could translate into two, three or even four votes on the Supreme Court, determining whether the court will be a refuge for civil rights or a dumping ground," Bond said.
Bond added that the next president's appointments will decide whether the next cabinet "will look like America or will look like a hockey team."
"Health care, education, economic opportunity, gun control, fairness for Africa, all these matter," Bond said. "All these will bear the imprint of the next president."
On the flag issue, Bond said the NAACP will keep in place its economic boycott in South Carolina even though many lawmakers there feel the issue is behind them.
"There will be no compromise on this issue. The NAACP boycott will continue until the flag is removed from a place of honor and put in its rightful place as an artifact of history," Bond said.
The national NAACP last year called for nationwide boycott of tourism, athletic contests, cultural events and film-making in South Carolina to pressure lawmakers to remove the flag from at the statehouse dome.
The flag was removed from the capitol dome July 1 but was erected on a 30-foot flagpole still on state grounds. The NAACP said the so-called compromise was inadequate and that the flag must be housed in a museum-like setting to place the symbol in a historical context.
Last week, South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon sent a letter asking NAACP leaders "to lay aside your concerns" about the flag placement and end the economic boycott against the state.
"The boycott should not be broadened but broken," Condon wrote. "We have too much polarization and too much controversy over this question."
In his letter, Condon hinted that he might investigate the legality of the NAACP boycott but gave no further specifics on the legalities.
Earlier Sunday, about a dozen protesters waved the Confederate flag outside the NAACP's convention.
The protesters, members of three conservative groups, said the NAACP's 9-year-old campaign to have the banner removed from all public properties is an attack on Southern heritage and culture.
"Leave our flag alone," said Richard Gebo, a Virginian now living in Pennsylvania. "That's all we have left."