Something peculiar occurred Monday evening inside the Rameses Temple on Beatties Ford Road: A Tea Party member was invited to address the brothers of the Beta Nu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
What’s more, Corey Thompson also is a Republican and at-large candidate for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
No, he did not go there stumping for votes. I suspect that Thompson, a history and journalism teacher at West Mecklenburg High School, is far too keen to be that naive.
Instead, he arrived with a singular theme: The tea party, he told the brothers, is not a racist movement, it wasn’t founded to oppose the nation’s first black president, and, he said, it’s certainly not based on hate.
So what’s a man politically aligned with Sarah Palin doing addressing the fraternity of King, Robeson, Marshall and Du Bois?
Well, let’s go back to early April. That’s when Gerald Terrell Jr., who serves on the Alpha’s political action committee, met Thomson at a Crossroads Charlotte event. The two men hit it off, by all accounts. But when Terrell later learned of Thompson’s tea party affiliation, he wrote in his blog about having mixed feelings.
“When most black people think of the tea party they think “CRAZY IGNORANT WHITE FOLKS,” he wrote. “And it doesn’t help when they have racist signs and crazy people on the tell-lie-vision.”
As fate would have it, one of Thompson’s students, about that same time, decided to Google his teacher.
“Mr. Thompson,” the student asked one day, “are you a racists?”
Thompson went online and found what Terrell had written then fired off a lengthy response.
“The Tea Party is not a racist movement,” he defended. “It never has been. Sure, you probably get one or two whackos in EVERY crowd, but couldn’t the same be true for other groups as well? Think about it.”
The two met over coffee to hash out what differences they could. Terrell later posted a second blog… and he invited Thompson to address his fraternity.
At Rameses Temple, attendance was light – a couple dozen men, maybe fewer. Thompson arrived with a campaign aide.
“I know there are a lot of perceptions out there about what the tea party is all about,” he said in opening remarks. “…I want to clarify any misperceptions that the tea party is founded on racist principles.”
During a brief question-and-answer period, Thompson said yes, he supports the controversial immigration law passed in Arizona.
As a conservative, he said, he supports states’ rights.
He called government a “necessary evil.”
No, he said, he is not a “birther.”
Then came the question African Americans have been asking ever since the tea party movement was born just months after President Obama moved into the White House: What exactly do supporters mean when they say, “We want our country back?” And where was this outrage over deficit spending and government over-reach during the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration?
“There is just as much negative sentiment out there against George W. Bush and some Republicans,” Thompson told the group.
He blamed the “mainstream media” for what he labeled as distorted reporting, showing only the tea party’s outrage aimed at Obama. Ronald Reagan, he said, was the last “true conservative” president.
Thompson said not once has he witnessed racism at a tea party event, and he rattled off a list of African Americans who have addressed tea party crowds.
The tea party’s birth, he said, was a direct response to the multi billion-dollar bank bailout, which began under Bush, and had nothing to do with the election of a black president. (In a later interview with Qcitymetro.com, he said he believes the movement would have formed even if John McCain had been elected.)
“I may not have won any votes in here,” Thompson said in closing, “but at least I had the courage to come here and hang out with you.”
Coming Thursday: With all due respect, the tea party movement still gives me the willies.
In the photo above, Alpha Phi Alpha member Gerald Terrell Jr. chats with tea party supporter Corey Thompson immediately after Thompson addressed members of the fraternity's Charlotte chapter.
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