Raleigh, N.C. — State NAACP President Rev. William Barber held a news conference Friday and responded to a Republican House freshman who accused Barber of "racist diatribes" and having a "race-baiting attitude."
"I don’t take stuff like that personally," Barber told reporters as supporters stood behind him. "He can have his opinion. We believe in freedom of speech. We have a responsibility to correct him."
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, along with all other state lawmakers, received an emailed version of a statement last week by Barber on proposed voter ID legislation.
In the statement, Barber calls voter ID initiatives "national propaganda efforts by the far-right to justify the obvious tactic to suppress the votes of minorities, youth, disabled and the elderly," and urges Republican legislative leaders to abandon their push for such a law in North Carolina.
WRAL News obtained the email Speciale sent in response, in which he accused Barber of tarnishing the "proud history" of the NAACP.
"You do minorities and the elderly a disservice when you assume that they are incapable or incompetent to the point that they cannot provide a photo ID to vote," Speciale wrote. "Your comments, both today and in the past are racist and inappropriate, therefore, I request that you remove me from your email list."
Speciale did not respond to calls and emails for comment or clarification.
"It’s like he picked up a book from the '50s or '60s and regurgitated the same answers from that day, instead of listening to what we’re saying," Barber said Friday. "He sent that as a way to try to divide and conquer, and it won’t work."
Speciale isn't the first eastern North Carolina Republican to call Barber and his group racists. In 2011, former Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, did the same thing.
Barber and NAACP Vice President Curtis Gatewood turned the tables on lawmakers during their news conference, charging that the General Assembly is racist.
"If a policy is going to have a disparate impact upon blacks (and) minorities, we're going to call it what it is," Barber said. "That is why we call it systemic racism."
House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes said the reasons for voter ID legislation are getting lost amid the charges and counter-charges.
"I call on all members of the legislature and of groups with an interest in this issue to focus on policy rather than on emotion. Issues as important as this often generate emotional reactions," Starnes said.
Separately, remarks by NAACP attorney Al McSurely during the news conference regarding the origin of Speciale's email caused another dust-up.
"I don’t really think he wrote this letter. I think he gave it to one of his Civitas people and said, ‘Let’s go after Rev. Barber,'" McSurely said.
Civitas and Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina, whom McSurely also mentioned, both released statements Friday, calling on McSurely to retract his statement.
“It is appalling that McSurely, an attorney and therefore an officer of the court, would make such an utterly false claim,” Civitas President Francis De Luca said in a statement. “He has no basis for making that charge: He made it up out of whole cloth. He should retract this lie immediately.”
"I had nothing to do with this email, nor did Americans for Prosperity. To infer that I am responsible for the content of this email is a lie and Mr. McSurely knows it," Woodhouse said in a separate statement. "I intend to hold Mr. McSurely responsible in front of the State North Carolina Bar for his unethical conduct."