Memphis prominent at the NAACP Convention | 7/22/2009, 7 p.m.
Memphis NAACP Youth Council members, parents and chaperones who traveled to New York City for the Centennial NAACP Convention were, front row (l-r): Michael Darling, Courtney Watson, Lauren Baskin, Sherissa Ervin, DePorschia Green holding Waleska Martinez, Brittany Haley, Lindsey Burgess, Sharon Walker, Christopher Gibbs, and Linda Gibbs; second row (l-r): Jackie Watson, Ross Williams, Trey Love, Albert Morris, Jr., Daryl Love, Jr., Chauncee Gibbs, Deborah Martinez, and LaSherlette Jones, Youth Advisor. (Courtesy photo)

NEW YORK CITY – Without a doubt, the highlight of the NAACP Centennial Convention held July 11-16 in New York City was the appearance of President Barack Obama on Thursday night at the Freedom Fund Gala, where later longtime NAACP Chairman Julian Bond received the 2009 Spingarn Award and Chaka Khan performed.

President Barack Obama wowed the audience at the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. (Photo courtesy of NAACP/NNPA)

On the convention’s final night, nearly 100 New York City police covered the area in and around the New York Hilton, site of the convention, while dozens of others, including Secret Service agents and hotel security, were vigilant and evident hours before the arrival of the president.

NAACPers, such as former Memphis City Schools teacher Ernestine Cunningham, and other banquet-goers stood in line starting at 2:30 p.m. until the doors opened for the 5 p.m. event, which was rescheduled from 7:30 p.m. for the presidential address. According to Chairman Bond, there were three overflow rooms in addition to the main ballroom.

President Obama spoke face-to-face in the main ballroom before 2,000 association members, celebrities (Cicely Tyson and P. Diddy among them), sponsors and other guests while others viewed him on flat screen monitors in overflow rooms. Additionally, it was possible to see the celebration in the hotel lobby and in individual hotel rooms.

Mindful of last year’s convention where he pledged to return as president the following year if they worked to elect him, Obama congratulated and thanked members of the oldest and largest civil rights organization in America for his victory and election as the nation’s first African-American president.

The speech, written two weeks ago and revised again before delivery, was masterful and reminiscent of his campaign days. The crowd was solidly behind him. Although later at a press conference, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous confirmed an earlier comment that if Obama was Lincoln then he would be his Frederick Douglass, holding him accountable. Jealous also said he had worked two years and the organization itself had worked hard to make “this man our next president” and Obama was “our big bet to improve our position in America.”