Marc Morial on NUL's Pull With Obama

The Urban League's CEO tells The Root how the Tea Party affected his group's influence at the White House.

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The National Urban League's National Conference opens Wednesday in Boston. The 101-year-old organization's president, Marc Morial -- a former mayor of New Orleans -- sat down with The Root in the league's New York offices overlooking the city's waterfront.

A frank, wide-ranging conversation covered the nation's current economic struggles as well as the Urban League's ability to influence President Obama and Congress. "We have less impact on the ultimate course of legislation because of the Tea Party," Morial observed.

Read on to find out what else he had to say.

The Root: At a time when we have an African-American president but African Americans are bearing a heavy economic burden, what do you see as the role of the National Urban League?

Marc Morial: The Urban League today is as important as it's ever been, but in a very, very different way ... We served more people in 2010 than at any time in our history. The numbers tell the story. It's a product of the Great Recession.

When times are tough, people look to us for job placement, job training, free after-school services, help staying in their homes. They look to us for our voice; we've been very active this year saying we need a jobs plan.

To some extent I feel I've been a voice in the wilderness while people have been distracted about lots of things. Times have changed, but I really think if the Urban League did not exist, people would be thinking about how to create it.

TR: Twenty, 30 years ago, the issues of African Americans were front-page news. Today they are often far less visible. Some papers don't even print the black unemployment rate when reporting joblessness.

MM: We're not on the front page of the paper because in many respects, the objective of civil rights was to help African Americans achieve mainstream positioning, whether it was in the government, whether it was in the elected sphere, whether it was in the mainstream of journalism, whether it was in the corporate suites or city halls.

To some extent, we've had a great deal of success in helping people achieve mainstream positions in American life. I spent most of my career in that sort of focused area: running a city, being in a legislature and being in a mainstream law firm. In the 1950s and '60s, when you thought of African-American leaders, the only thing you'd think of was outside the mainstream -- activists. What is reflected today is that black leadership is much, much broader ... The number of visible public spokespeople has really, really changed.