WASHINGTON — Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., pressed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday to create a civil rights envoy position in the West Wing that would report directly to the president.
“He appointed John Kerry to be the climate envoy, reporting directly to him,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview before a meeting with Mr. Biden in Wilmington, Del., that included other prominent civil rights leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We believe a national adviser on racial justice should be something equivalent.”
After an election that unfolded amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and police violence, the civil rights leaders said they also planned to lean on Mr. Biden to fill more top-tier cabinet positions, including attorney general, with Black appointees.
While the attorney general oversees civil rights compliance and enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination based on race, Mr. Johnson said a new position focused solely on racial justice would have a broader mandate across government agencies. “This would be advancing equity in governance, in budgeting and resources,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said the meeting on Tuesday was his first conversation with Mr. Biden since the election. It was not clear before the meeting whether Mr. Biden would agree with the suggestion for addressing systemic racism in America.
But Mr. Johnson said he viewed the creation of an official post of a “national adviser on justice, equity and advancement,” complete with a fully staffed office, as a natural outcome of the promises Mr. Biden had made during his campaign. “He talked about racial justice equity,” Mr. Johnson said. “In order for his vision to come to fruition, there should be someone who reports to him with that sole responsibility.”
In an interview with CNN last week, Mr. Biden noted that “every advocacy group out there is pushing for more and more and more of what they want. That’s their job.” He defended his first eight picks as “the most diverse cabinet anyone in American history has ever announced.”
But the group of civil rights leaders he met with on Tuesday may be some of the most experienced when it comes to exerting pressure on public officials.
“He said if he won, he would do something about criminal justice, police reform and specifically mass incarceration,” Mr. Sharpton, the civil rights leader and talk show host, said in an interview before the meeting. “He flew to Houston to meet before I did the eulogy for George Floyd. He made specific commitments. I’m saying, promises made, let’s see if promises are kept.”
Among Mr. Sharpton’s questions for Mr. Biden: “What kind of attorney general are we going to have? How many Blacks are going to be in the cabinet?”
Mr. Sharpton called the appointment of Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary, the first African-American to be chosen for the position, “a step in a long walk.” But he said he still had concerns about whom Mr. Biden might choose to lead the Justice Department that he planned to voice in private, for now.
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