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NAACP Honors, Cheers Clinton

Kudos: Former president basks in warm reception at rights group's annual awards ceremony.

March 04, 2001|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former President Bill Clinton received a special honor--and an exceedingly warm reception--at the 32nd annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday night.

Clinton, battling harsh criticism over clemencies he granted in the closing hours of his presidency, entered Universal Amphitheatre to a standing ovation, thunderous applause and cheering at the event held by the nation's largest civil rights group.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume introduced Clinton by saying the former president was taught "that everyone should be treated with respect, no matter what the color of your skin is."

As Clinton accepted the Presidents Award, he received another standing ovation.

"Usually I don't believe that presidents or former presidents should receive awards, because the job is reward itself. And I had a great time," he said with a broad smile as the crowd applauded wildly.

"But I am going to take this here and be glad I got it, because it balances out whatever else I have been given," he said in a seeming reference to the blitz of criticism he has endured since shortly after leaving office. He made no direct mention of the controversy.

Clinton ended his remarks with these words: "What is really important is our common humanity. When we forget it, we suffer. When we remember it, we prosper."

When word of Clinton's appearance leaked out late in the week, the major television networks requested that the organization allow them to cover the event. But the requests were denied, sources said.

Saturday's ceremonies also included actors Morgan Freeman and Michael Clarke Duncan presenting Sidney Poitier with the Hall of Fame award. A host of singers, including Natalie Cole, serenaded the veteran actor.

The annual event honors individuals and companies supporting positive change for African Americans in the arts and entertainment industries. Awards are given in the categories of music, film, television and literature.

Past political and civic honorees have included U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman and the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

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