Black Caucus: New National Priorities?

Ethnic Catering Service

(Because yesterday's Crimson suffered delivery problems, this article--which appeared in yesterday's edition--is being reprinted today.)

WHILE you were probably away, the Ethnic Catering Service made a two-day pit stop at Harvard as it slouches towards Miami to be bought.

Miami prices are expected to be quite high in July as the Democratic Party has a known hunger for black votes.

Noticeably absent for most of the Catering Service's stay here was Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, who seems to be preparing to run a stand of her own at Miami Beach.

The Catering Service is expected to serve what Congressman William Clay calls a "national black legislative agenda" to the Democratic Platform Committee. Clay, who was just elected to the House in 1969, has emerged as a principal chef of the Catering Service, and serves as the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. The two-day forum here last week was clearly a part of his recipe for making the Ethnic Catering Service's dish all the more irresistable come chow-time in Miami.

LATE Friday afternoon, after all of the formal sessions of the conference were over, William Clay sat in a red lounge chair in the Union trying to forget the sun was in his eyes and perhaps also forget that there were still reporters asking him questions.

Clay had been a ubiquitous figure at the conference, chairing the Caucus's meetings with the press, serving on the panel on Communications and filling in on the one on Health.

The question of the moment had to do with the discussion during the session on Health earlier that afternoon. There had been some strong debate between the two white members of the panel, Dr. John Knowles and Pierre de Vise, on one hand and just about everyone else in the room on the other. Clay had sat in front of a microphone in the middle of the panel table while Knowles and de Vise had attacked the position paper of the Caucus for assuming that an increase in the number of black doctors was an unequivocal good. The question of the moment had to do with doctors. Clay pondered the question with his eyes half-closed. He had spoken in agreement with the majority during the session, defending the call for more black doctors. In the red sun, his trimmed beard had ragged, blue-black edges. Bill Clay had sat in the middle of the panel table while Dr. Lloyd Elam, president of Meharry, had called Knowles, the former head of Mass General and now president-designate of the Rockefeller Foundation, and de Vise on the carpet for "unconscious racism." One black woman in the audience became so upset with de Vise that she requested the black member of the panel closest to de Vise to territorially disassociate himself from the white health researcher by sliding his cardboard name plate closer to him and away from de Vise. "We don't want to have anything to do with him," the woman had said.

The question of the moment had to do with doctors. Bill Clay's eyelids abandoned the struggle and retreated to his forehead. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "I was just sitting in. I need a doctor."

FOR many of the individual participants, the conference was of little clear value. The forum sessions were showy and sterile to those few participants attending their first conclave, but they were just stale reruns, repeats of a sad situation comedy, to the conference veterans.

Barbara Sizemore, whose intelligent comments sharpened the focus of Thursday's forum on Education--in which she served as a panelist--and that of the Law and Justice forum on Friday, spoke for many of the veterans when she said. "I feel that this conference was the least effective of the three that I've attended: Gary, Washington and here."

She felt the convention at Gary had "outlined the aspirations of our people," and established long range goals. She noted that the goals and aspirations expressed at Gary had reflected "the two alternatives that blacks have selected," that of working within the capitalist system and that of working to establish "alternative institutions that work outside of the system, a black America that operates within the other America." Gary had selected the destinations. All that was needed now were road maps for the territory.

Ms. Sizemore went to the conference in Washington in March hoping that a program to implement the goals of Gary would develop out of the discussion, but no such program emerged. She then came here in April hoping that the forum on "What Our National Priorities Should Be" would develop that program. She left Cambridge Friday thoroughly convinced that it hadn't.

She felt the most productive part of the whole affair here had been the informal discussion off-campus. In these discussions, like the one at Elma Lewis's home in Roxbury on Thursday night, Ms. Sizemore said she learned the kind of things "that help me to better understand the kind of things that students and administrators have to deal with" as black people in a white educational system.

Unfortunately, none of the knowledge that was given or gained in these discussion is on the tape the Black Caucus is taking back to Washington.

However, given the way the whole forum was structured, it was impossible for it to have turned out any better for Barbara Sizemore or any of the black activist professionals attending the conclave. The kind of conference from which they might best profit probably would have been held at Moorehouse in Atlanta and not at Harvard. It would have been sponsored by black institutions as well as, if not in place of, the three liberal dailies and the Institute of Politics, and would have included people like Buzz Palmer, Arthur Hill or Renault Robinson as well as people like James Ahern on its panel on Law and Justice.

However, there was a very good reason why the Black Caucus chose to have its national priorities forum here, and co-sponsored by prominent liberal newspapers. With the tacit support implicit in that sponsorship, the Ethnic Catering Service may be able to go to Miami with the best meal in town.

It was unavoidably symbolic. William L. Clay (D-Mo.) Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, opened the final press conference with a brief summation of why the Caucus had conducted its two-day forum on national priorities and why the group had chosen to hold it at Harvard in conjunction with three large liberal newspapers and the Institute of Politics.

"Without the support of the people who mold public opinion in this country, we're not going to be successful in solving the problems that exist for Black Americans," Clay said. "So with that in mind, that is why the Congressional Black Caucus decided number one on having this conference at Harvard--with all of the prestige that goes along with that. And that is why we decided to have as co-sponsors of this conference such distinguished newspapers as the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Chicago Sun-Times."

Camera clicks mixed with the sound of Clay's clean Missouri drawl. "That is also why we decided that we would come down on the mass communications media, and come down on them hard. And I think that anyone who has read the position of the Black Caucus," Clay continued, "as it relates to mass communications is aware--"

"--Excuse me. Wait one minute," interrupted a white woman standing in front of the bank of TV cameras at the rear of the crowd of reporters. "We've lost all sound in the audio media," she said.

Clay grinned and shook his head, knowingly, with an ironic void of surprise. "I knew when we started talking about the mass communications media..."

The crowd, composed of conference participants as well as newsmen, erupted in honest and somewhat bitter laughter. Like Clay, they were accustomed to being tuned out