Protesting Howard University students succeeded in driving Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater from the predominantly black school's board of trustees, saying he encouraged racism during his work for President Bush's election campaign.
Atwater submitted a resignation letter to the school Tuesday night after hundreds of students took over the administration building to protest his appointment.Earlier Tuesday, Bush had defended the choice of Atwater, who headed his presidential campaign, but District of Columbia Mayor Marion S. Barry said Atwater should quit.
In his resignation letter, Atwater said he wanted to help the school, but "continuing the controversy surrounding my appointment any longer defeats that goal."
"Today's events at Howard demonstrate the possibility that someone could be injured in the protest," he said. "That I could not accept. I would never forgive myself if someone was hurt in one of these episodes."
Atwater's resignation came 48 hours before Bush was scheduled to address a United Negro College Fund dinner in New York.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Wednesday that Bush had `no reaction" to Atwater's stepping down, "other than what he told you yesterday" during a news conference. "He hoped things would be worked out, and they have been"
Fitzwater said Atwater had called Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, Tuesday night to tell him of his decision and Sununu then notified the president.
Howard students were infuriated when college president James Cheek appointed Atwater to the board in January. The students cited Atwater's use during the Bush campaign of ads highlighting Willie Horton, a black rapist and murderer from the home state of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis.
"He masterminded the use of the Willie Horton issue to contribute to the rising anti-black sentiment of the American people," said Michael Lewis, a spokesman for the informal group of students that organized protests beginning last week at the school's convocation.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, interviewed Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," said Atwater made the right decision.
"The signals that were sent in the Willie Horton ad were not so much about (prison) furloughs, but about race inciting fears in white people and creating very painful feelings among African-Americans," Jackson said. "After eight years of (former President) Reagan, there are fewer (black) students in colleges, more of them are in jail. Unfortunately, Lee Atwater symbolizes the worst of that situation."