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Activists call on Bush for race policy changes

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Civil rights groups on Friday challenged members of the Bush administration "to put actions where their words are" on race relations.

"The issue is no longer who will be majority leader," Elizabeth Birch of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. "The issue now is how will this administration be judged? It has to be by actions not words. Otherwise, the sentiments expressed over the last few days will truly ring hollow."

Birch joined representatives from a myriad of liberal groups in urging President Bush to put distance between himself and Lott, R-Mississippi, who on Friday said he would not fill the Senate GOP leadership post to which he had been re-elected. (More on Lott's decision)

Lott became the center of a firestorm the past two weeks over his comments in praise of the 1948 segregationist presidential campaign of Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina.

Bush has called Lott's comments "offensive" and "wrong."

The activists sent a letter to Bush, said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a consortium of more than 180 national advocacy organizations.

The letter urged President Bush to take action on four key issues: affirmative action, judicial appointments, hate crimes, and election reform.

"We must not allow one member of Congress to be singled out, then allow everyone else to get back to business as usual," Henderson said.

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