A group of Black politicians, educators and community leaders gathered Saturday for a student-sponsored public conference at the Kennedy School on strategies for creating a Black political power base.
The afternoon-long program of speeches and seminars represented both liberal and conservative viewpoints, but all 15 participants stressed the importance of Black participation in the political process. A predominantly Black audience of about 200 attended the conference.
Rep. Parres J. Mitchell (D-Md.) expressed the overall theme of the conference when he said in his closing address, "Wherever Black strength is concentrated we must ally ourselves to that strength." He warned Black students that they face a "new velvet racism" whose tactics are subtle but destructive.
Americans no longer resort to direct racist attacks, but they'll find 10,000 ways to tell you why you can't finish a program here," said Mitchell, a member of the Black Congressional Caucus.
The conference began with a panel discussion at which four Black specialists split sharply over whether Blacks currently have a powerful voice in American politics.
Professor of Government Martin Kilson argued that Blacks have the potential for political power but often fail to exercise if in elections, citing the recent defeat of Tom Bradley, the Black mayor of Los Angeles, in the California governor's race.
Blacks have no one to blame but them selves." Kilson said. Political maturation will be elusive for Black Americans until this is realized."
But Manning Marable, director of Fisk University's race relations institute maintained that Blacks have little political power because of anti-Black police, of the Reagan Administration.
Head to Head
At a debate later in the afternoon two educators squared off over the question of whether Blacks should support President Reagan.
Reagan's candidacy was the best thing that could have happened to Black Americans," said J.A. Parker, president of the Lincoin for research and education Parker argued that cutting back affirmative action programs and transforming authority for social programs to the state and local level's would help Blacks improve their own situation.
But Ralph Smith, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School won audible support from the audience when he said that Reagan's administration "has conducted an all-out war on poor and Black people.
He added, "The Democratic Party has not made issues of concern to Black people a priority either.
The conference was sponsored by a Black subgroup of the institute of Politics Student Advisory Committee.