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Candidates Struggle for Negro Votes

The Gubernatorial Race

By Michael Lerner

The two Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates were engaged over the weekend in a crucial, last minute struggle to win the vote of the Negro community. That struggle seems likely to be waged down through the last hours of the campaign. It is giving Boston civil rights leaders political leverage they have rarely enjoyed before.

Last night the Boston NAACP fired off telegrams to both former Governor John A. Volpe and Lieutenant Governor Francis X. Bellotti, giving them until 10 a.m. this morning to furnish the NAACP with their positions on extremism and civil rights.

How the NAACP arrived at a position from which it would make such peremptory last-minute demands on the two candidates is an intriguing story. It hinges on the belief of both Volpe and Bellotti that the race is so close that the Negro voters hold the balance.

Last Thursday the Massachusetts Freedom Movement and Boston CORE issued a press release detailing Volpe's civil rights program. Canon James Breeden, co-chairman of the Mass. Freedom Movement, and Alan Gartner, chairman of Boston CORE, hailed the statement as "the most advanced civil rights program ever issued by a gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts History."

The endorsement came after the civil rights leaders had met with Volpe a week before. They asked him to issue a statement on civil rights. He agreed, and pledged that his administration would have an "open-door" policy with the civil rights leaders.

Breeden and Gartner also endorsed Volpe out of a sense of frustration with Bellotti. For six weeks, they had besieged Bellotti headquarters with telephone calls, seeking a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor. On Oct. 7 a meeting was scheduled, by Bellotti broke the appointment. This snub added strength to the two groups' pro-Volpe sentiment.

But Bellotti did not seem to be worried. Sources close to the Lieutenant Governor said that, until recently, he had been convinced that he would get the Negro vote.

Bellotti's sense of security seems to have been broken during a sound-truck procession through Roxbury Saturday night. The citizens of Roxbury gave him a cool reception. They had been widely advised of Governor Volpe's liberal civil rights statements.

When Bellotti got home from the Roxbury rally, ususally reliable sources in the Negro community report, he called a prominent member of the Boston NAACP at 12:30 a.m. He urgently asked what he could do to raise his standing in Negro precincts.

The NAACP leader was in a position to be tough with Bellotti. He knew that the next morning--yesterday--at Negro churches across the Commonwealth--worshippers would find 60,000 pamphlets with Canon Breeden on the cover and his endorsement of Volpe inside.

Bellotti bowed to the pressure, and agreed to meet with the NAACP official yesterday. At the meeting, he was said to have portrayed himself as liberal on civil rights, and suprised that Volpe was finding so much popularity in the Negro community.

The NAACP official, according to sources, was explicit in his suggestions as to what Bellotti should propose. As a result of the meeting, the NAACP seems to have decided that it may be able to put more pressure on Volpe as a result of the expected strong civil rights statement by his opponent. Thus in its telegram to the Republican, the Association has asked for a statement on extremism as well as a restatement of his civil rights position.

Who engineered this pell-mell race of the Negro vote? No one is certain. But several civil rights enthusiasts have pointed out that Malcom E. Peabody Jr. '50, the Governor's younger brother, has been a leader in making friends for Peabody among the civil rights groups. He is an Episcopalian, like Breeden, and a member of the Episcopalian Society for Cultural and Racial Unity.

Peabody strategists realize that Lieutenant Governor Bellotti's defeat is necessary if Peabody is to reappear as a power in state politics. What better way to defeat him than with a candidate who--like Peabody--has a stronger commitment than Bellotti on civil rights

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