From NBC's Athena Jones
Braving driving snow and near whiteout conditions, three prominent African-American leaders came to the White House today to discuss jobs and the economy with President Obama.
NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous, National Urban League President Marc H. Morial, and Al Sharpton made the trek to draw the president's attention to the significant impact the "Great Recession" has had on African Americans and on urban communities.
While the overall unemployment rate dipped below the double digits in January to 9.7%, the jobless rate among African Americans remains much higher, at 16.5%. The three leaders said they had asked for the meeting to make sure they had a voice -- along with labor and business -- in the discussion over the jobs bill and other legislation.
"This was not about finger pointing," said Sharpton. "This was about how our people need help. We need to be part of the discussion just as labor leaders have been included just as business leaders."
They are hoping to meet with Democratic and Republican leaders from both houses to discuss their concerns. While Sharpton stressed the group had not talked about specific race-based initiatives, Morial suggested that some targeting in the jobs bill -- for instance aid for the chronically unemployed -- would help.
"We stressed and we continue to press the idea that any jobs initiative, jobs bill, that goes to the Congress has to be inclusive," said Morial. "We talked about summer jobs; we talked about job training for the chronically unemployed; we talked about our strong support for the measures that the president has already proposed to expand small business lending, which is something that we think can have a great and powerful, positive impact on jobs in this nation."
An interesting moment came when Jealous compared what he called the obstructionist practices of Senate Republicans -- who have held up various pieces of legislation -- with the "Dixiecrats" who stood in the way of civil rights.
"If the Senate Republicans want to kind of keep on using tactics, quite frankly, from the last century that were used against black people in this century against working people, then we're going to hold them to account and we're gonna push them even harder to come up with ideas, because it's not enough to say 'No, no no' when people are suffering, suffering, suffering across this country."
When pressed, he explained that he was also referring in part to a number of southern governors and southern state senators and state assemblymen who had stood in the way of policies -- like job training -- that could help the poor of their state.
"I was making a segregationist comparison," Jealous said in response to another question on the matter. "Unfortunately, yesterday's Dixiecrats are, you know, have switched parties in too many instances, and I think we've all seen that."
Dr. Dorothy I. Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, had been scheduled to attend the meeting but could not due to the weather, which shut down the federal government for a third day.
Sharpton noted he was "glad the president, even on this day of a blizzard, decided to have the meeting and to be so open and free with his time," and Morial thanked Obama for the opportunity to speak with him "even on this very difficult weather day."