"No matter his intention, Mark's response was unwise," said William Owens, an African American conservative and a regular on the Tea Party Express' bus tours. Williams said he understood that the TPE's "slow response" to Williams' "satirical" blog post about the NAACP might have "made things look" like the organization was supporting Williams, but Owens said that wasn't the case.
"It was out of loyalty to a friend," Owens said. "He has apologized and we have forgiven him."
Owens had harsh words for the Tea Party Federation, which publicly repudiated Williams and kicked the Tea Party Express out of the movement after the blog post became a national controversy. I asked him to weigh in on the move, considering that he was speaking on behalf of the only tea party group to be publicly rebuked by another for racism.
"For them to take that upon themselves was totally out of context," Owens told me. "There has been no judge and jury set up to condemn them or any other group."
The speakers at Wednesday's event spent the majority of their time talking not about Williams or the Tea Party Express, but about the notion that the movement is defined by racism. As we've heard a lot lately, black conservatives in the tea party movement strongly reject that notion, and today was no exception. When the unique racial mix of the speakers (only one was white) was set aside, the message from the event today was similar to one heard at every tea party rally: the left is racist for talking about race, and groups like the NAACP reject any African American who refuses to vote the Democratic party line. Meanwhile, the speakers said, the tea party is the home of positive race relations in the country.
"You're not just going to eradicate racism in America, because it's in our hearts," Selena Owens, wife of William, said. "But you're not going to put it on our backs either just because we're speaking out against a president who happens to have a darker color to his skin."
Alan Keyes, perhaps the most famous black conservative, offered largely the same message. But he also weighed in on Williams when I asked, condemning the former tea party superstar for making a mockery of race relations in the country.
"I think what happened to Mark Williams is an illustration of two things," Keyes said. "First of all, it's always dangerous -- especially when you're dealing with an environment of deep hostility and nobody's going to defend you -- to deal with really serious issues in a satirical or comedy way."
"Just don't do it," he said.