Black Caucus: New National Priorities?

Embarassing Questions

THE Congressional Black Caucus had to face a barrage of embarrassing questions last week, questions that essentially laid bare the covert attempts of the Caucus to gain the position of power broker for the black masses. The questions came during the two day conference entitled "What Our National Priorities Should Be..." held at Harvard under the sponsorship of the Caucus, the Institute of Politics, the Boston Globe, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Philadelphia Bulletin.

At the panel on Communications, H. Carl McCall, Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Amsterdam News, New York's black weekly, asked quite pointedly, "Why is this conference being sponsored by the white media?" McCall said that the Congressional Black Caucus had never approached his paper or any other black newspaper as a possible sponsor. Adding that he and other black newspapers would have been more than happy to sponsor the forum, McCall said. "The way it is presently structured, this conference is conspiring with the enemy."

Soon after McCall's remark, Cambridge Councilwoman Saundra Graham took the floor and began to ask more embarrassing questions.

"What happens to the convention inputs, what we say here today?" she queried. "Will the Black Caucus be willing to boycott white newspapers until they begin to tell the truth? Is the Caucus willing to take the leadership? We're going to get nowhere talking!"

"Well, uh, you see we (the Caucus) can't initiate any action," was Congressman William L. Clay's (D-Mo.) rather strained reply, "but we would stand behind you."

Indeed, Clay's statement seems to characterize the philosophy of the Black Caucus. They appear to be supporters of everything, leaders of nothing. Did the Black Caucus call for Harvard to sell its Gulf stock because it feels the University is really wrong or simply because the Gulf stock question is the "black issue" of the moment?

Thursday afternoon brought still more embarrassing questions for the Caucus. "What is the Black Caucus doing to prevent the Social Security I.D. cards that are to be issued to all the three year olds in the country?" asked an irate member of the forum. Clay fielded the question, "Well, you see we're not trying to dodge the issue, but things will be done." One senses these things will be done only when the larger black community does them.

At the end of the panel on Communication, the Congressional Black Caucus got just what they wanted. In a position paper drafted previously, the Caucus had outlined a thirteen-point program for creating a more objective news media. When the session was over only one item--something regarding black book publishers--had been added by the people whose opinions the Caucus was supposedly soliciting. Now the Black Caucus can go to the Democratic Convention and say, "Well, at our conference we received unanimous support for our program."

Perhaps the Congressional Black Caucus should ask itself some embarrassing questions, like whose program is "our" program? Is it the program of the brother who's standing on a corner in Harlem, of the black man who's being pushed out of his home in Roxbury? Or is "our" program the program of sophisticated blacks in three-hundred-dollar knit suits from Saks, the program of the black bourgeoisie?

Thursday's session was best summed up by one observer who said, "It's nothing but carpetbaggers and scallywags all over again."

WITH Friday came the panel on Housing. It might have been more aptly titled "Why We Love Black Capitalists." Most prominent among the panelists was Floyd McKissick, activist turned capitalist, formerly president of the Congress on Racial Equality and now president of McKissick Enterprises, Inc. When someone in the audience suggested that the Caucus should push for the development of non-profit companies to build housing for blacks, McKissick flew into a rage. Jumping out of his chair and waving his hands, he yelled, "There is nothing wrong with making money, with making a profit. We as black people have to put that notion aside." Several people suggested to McKissick that blacks should not get hung up in the same capitalist ethic as whites, but McKissick would hear nothing of it. "That's just a trick bag that the white man's put us in," he said.

McKissick having had his say, the chairman of the panel, Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) entertained additional comments from the floor. A woman from Boston making reference to local landlord Maurice Gordon, called on the Black Caucus to introduce legislation that would make landlords responsible for all damage done by fire when the landlord had been warned of building code violations. Mitchell explained to the woman that it would be very difficult to pass a federal law concerning violations of local building codes. Instead he suggested that any black person, anywhere in the country, who had a particular grievance should send it to the Black Caucus and they would see what they could do about it through a special act of Congress.

The position paper the Black Caucus had prepared for the panel on Housing was a rather ambiguous document citing only the dimensions of the problem and offering rent subsidies as the only solution. The audience was noticeably upset at the lack of concrete proposals. They formed ten additional proposals to remedy the situation and ratified them by unanimous voice vote. The ad hoc resolutions included a statement that the right to decent housing is a federally enforceable civil right, as well as a condemnation of Phase II of the Economic Stabilization Act.

This was no people's conference. Admission was by invitation only and you still had to pay 65 bucks. Security was tight, and you had to show an admission badge wherever you went.

Thus as the conference came to a close on Friday evening, the Congressional Black Caucus had to face the most embarrassing question of them all. The question was not asked directly but in small discussions and private telephone conversation. The question: Why is this conference different from any other? The simple answer: It was the most frustrating and useless of them all. And that's too bad. The conference could have turned out to be so much, yet it turned out to be so little