Special of the week; Issue 20-71 "The Black Caucus"
NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week. The following program was produced by the Washington reporting program of the University of Missouri's Graduate School of Journalism and is narrated by David Marr delays across Independence Avenue from the Capitol are the three House office buildings. It is Tuesday and today as they do every Tuesday a group of 11 congressmen and one congresswoman is meeting in one of these buildings to discuss common problems such meetings are not unusual. Great power is wielded behind the cold stone faces of the three House office buildings. Legislation is shaped deals are made understandings reached votes traded sometimes long before any legislative action is taken across the street in the Capitol while the system works as it should. Each congressman tries to get the maximum amount of leverage he can and will the maximum amount of power he can to best serve the interest of
the people who elected him. If you can find other congressmen with the same interests they may become a bloc and will correspondingly more power. So today's meeting is not unusual except that all of the 12 congressmen meeting today are black. They meet somewhere on Capitol Hill every week under the name the Black Caucus. They represent they say the 24 million Americans in this country who are black and the caucus is say its members and attempt to make the nation's Congress work harder for the nation's black citizens. Unlike many other call the actions within the Congress the Black Caucus has become fairly widely known. The group has taken stands on some issues and has made a good deal of news. Black Caucus members boycotted President Nixon's state of the Union address then demanded time to answer it on network television that the man was initially rejected. But they are still pressing it. Our year ago the group asked for a meeting with President Nixon.
Originally they were turned down. Told in effect says one member Don't call us we'll call you. After more than 12 months of pressure and some negotiations that meeting between Mr. Nixon and the 12 black congressman was scheduled for March. We have heard most about the run ins between the Black Caucus and chief executive but the caucus has also been moving in the legislative branch of government. The improvements of their status within the House of Representatives especially in the area of committee assignments may ultimately prove much more important than either the boycott of the state of the Union address or the ready access to the president. The black caucus idea that is black members meeting together to discuss mutual interests and problems is not new. Caucus member Augustus Hawkins of California has been in Congress since 1962 after a great deal of service in the California legislature. The idea of the meetings he explains began a four or five years ago. I think that it grew out of the
consultation of several of those who would simply discuss some of these problems. Well you know meetings usually on the floor of Congress itself. I think the idea of actually started about five or six years ago when only three of four of us did that. And as a membership increased it became more formalized because obviously there was a necessity then to to meet in a larger place and to. To be a little more particular about the issues we discussed the manner in which we did it in the 94 US Congress there were nine black members on the caucus had its first session formal organization came in the 90 second Congress with the election of a chairman and the assignment of members to committees of the
caucus. It would be a mistake to look at the Black Caucus as simply a block of votes. One because its members frequently do not vote as a block and two because the caucus sees itself as being much more than that. Nor is it designed simply to be a publicity seeking irritant being irritable its members admit can work sometimes but real power in Congress is often wielded behind the scenes outside the range of the microphone and camera. The members of the Black Caucus are looking for some of that kind of power too. Talk to a black member of Congress and they'll tell you he represents much more than simply his own district. This additional burden often is not by choice and important part of the congressman's job is to act as an on blood xmen between the various federal agencies and his own constituents. If a man does not receive his Social Security check once to get into or out of the army feels his mail service is poor or has any other complaint about the federal government. He can often get
action by writing his congressman. The black congressman also finds that he not only receives mail from his own district but also mail from blacks and other parts of the nation who are represented by whites. Again Augustus Hawkins of California. We do get a tremendous amount of mail from areas outside of our own areas outside of our state as amount of funding. And these inquiries letters charges problems etc represent the same type of problems perhaps that we have within our own district but from individuals not directly represented by us. And obviously there is some interest across these district lines that cement individuals together and this is one of them. We found for example in the black veterans and
serviceman that their problems are pretty much national in character and. Most of the men who write to us concerning some of these problems don't really identify what district they they come from but nevertheless they represent problems. Probably it's a it's a base overseas that has been the source of a great amount of discrimination patterns of discrimination. And so in tackling a problem like this we're tackling it not for just for our own district but for every black man and wherever we may they come from. So it is not unusual to hear a black congressman like paren Michel of Maryland say he and his black colleagues represent most of this nation's black citizens whether they're in their district or not. 23 25 million black Americans some of whom have black representation others do not. All of them are theoretically represented in the Congress. But inside in the deep
south states. They really don't have any representation. So I see my job as a congressman serving in the Congressional Black Caucus as really representing blacks across the nation who are in difficulty. And we're not getting adequate representation. That's in addition to of course the job of representing the constituents in my district Caucus members what Congressman Duffy although when the caucus takes a stand it is speaking as the elected representative of this nation's blacks. The 12 congressmen say they are the highest elected black officials in the nation right now and House Majority Leader hell biogs agrees with them. Well I think the effectiveness is in the. Present a point of view. Representative you take a. If you're not a mostly. Black community of the United States and it represents roughly 20 to 23 million people
on the other side of the aisle Representative John Anderson of Illinois chairman of the House Republican Conference says he also feels the caucus members are speaking for this nation's black community. I realize that that opinion political opinion in the black community in this country ranges the spectrum from those who support the militants who speak the language of violence and those who are. Like the late Whitney Young men who certainly gave every evidence of being dissatisfied with conditions as far as blacks are concerned and yet willing to try to work out peaceful solutions. And I think as I look over the. The black members of the U.S. House of Representatives that there are all of them responsible men who have been honored by. Through the elective process to be representatives and to come to Washington to speak for the black community in the district and in the state that they represent. And by and large I think they do represent the responsible voices that ought to be listened
to. The black community in our country. Caucus members feel that when they take a stand they can pressure white congressmen who have blacks in their district to vote with the caucus. This so-called ripple effect says Missouri's William Clay could give the caucus as many as 150 votes. But I think we have to look at the 12 black members of Congress from a different perspective. Even though we constitute only 12 actual votes are potential here in the house or somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifty votes because I say that because there are a hundred and seventy three congressional districts in this country where the percentage of black vote is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. And in many instances that black vote out there is a balance of power in those congressional districts had Blacks stayed at home or had they voted for a different person then
these hundred fifty congressmen wouldn't be sitting here today. So I view our numbers here in as many many more than 12. You know our job now is to analyze those districts pinpoint the congressman who should be voting for our best interests and to make sure that we get a vote. Democrat Morris Udall of Howrah Zona a liberal member of the house and a candidate for the majority leader's post during the last Democratic Caucus agrees with Clay's analysis of the potential power of the Black Caucus. UDALL used himself as an example. Well there's an implication here I think these 12 have considerable leverage in that there's an implication here for those of us who have substantial black constituencies if I'm a white man representing half a million people and 10 percent of them are black I'm going to think twice before I will go against a key movement a key bill a key amendment that's been debated and sponsored
by the Black Caucus my black constituents are going to wonder what explanation I have if the Black Caucus here in Washington is determined that a certain vote is necessary and I have refused to go along with them so from the standpoint of there's a shock wave effect that goes out and they can put a little bit of pressure on a lot of the congressmen the white congressmen. There is another important aspect of power in the house. The assignment of committees the committee assignments each member draws often have a direct correlation to how much power he can wield within the walls of Congress. If a man has a seat on an important committee say public works or Ways and Means or the Rules Committee he can often do favors for other members. His vote is worth more and he can ask more in return for it. A well placed committee chairman or a man with a swing vote on a committee can often decide the fate of a piece of legislation long before it ever gets to the floor where the entire membership of the House could vote on it. Thus the
Black Caucus has tried to improve the position of its members on House committees. There has been a definite improvement in committee assignments for the black members between the ninety first and ninety second Congresses. The black caucus takes some of the credit but there were other factors to consider. Representative Perrin Mitchell of Maryland there's no question but that the committee assignments reflected clog if you want to call it that of the home. When the when the 90 second Congress convened and even before that the caucus had been meeting and I had met with them developing a strategy and the strategies that there are so few of us in the house only a handful only a dozen that strategically would be far more important to have us represented on as many committees as possible rather than having us concentrated on one to appoint committees. And that was a strategic decision to play golf and I think it's clear that the Congress had the clout to deliver on that strategy in the first
session of the 94 US Congress the eight black members served on eight different committees four were on Education and Labor already a traditionally liberal Committee. Others served on Judiciary House administration District of Columbia foreign affairs Veterans Affairs the post office and Civil Service Committee and the Internal Security Committee. No black representative served on what I consider to be the three most powerful House committees rules ways and means our appropriations. And the 90 second Congress the black representatives picked up seats on six new committees including Public Works banking and currency and most important a seat on the Appropriations Committee. Representative Clay points out these committees work in areas important to black Americans. The legislation is flows through these committees have a very important impact on the people that we represent.
On banking and currency. For instance all of the major housing legislation goes through their holy of federal subsidized housing programs both middle income and low income housing. Public housing goes through there also. So you know we have some kind of an impact on the kinds of decisions that will come from that committee now on appropriations all of your money bills go through there. And we now have somebody on that committee representing our interests. The question then is did the black members of Congress receive these better assignments because they organized a definite positive answer isn't possible as representative Morris Udall points out the organization did help. But the leadership in the house was in the process of changing with the retirement of Speaker John McCormick. And that's who may have had something to do with a better committee assignments there. Of awareness I think an increasing awareness of the needs
and demands of the black people growing out of the city crisis. There are also a large number of blacks they added three or four new wins in this Congress and this was the first time in which they had begun to make these kinds of demands a group of five or six isn't really much you know if you can ignore a group of that kind with impunity when you get to be 12 and when you when that 12 professes to speak to 25 million Americans you can't very well ignore it. Also we had a leadership change this year in which a new leader Carl Albert a new speaker was attempting to to show his concern and take charge and he was apprehensive you at least wanted to make sure that his election was carried off. There are a number of candidates for House Majority Leader Democratic majority leader and these candidates were anxious to show the 12 block vote that they had concern and so I suppose promises and assurances were made in that kind of an atmosphere that might not have been made if you've had a stable leadership situation. It should also be noted that many white congressmen also receive the chance to better their
committee assignments. The new leadership expanded 11 of the 21 standing committees in the house to permit more members to serve on these committees seats were added to agriculture appropriations of banking and currency. Veterans Affairs and Public Works. So majority leader hell box feels that most of his fellow Democrats black and white are satisfied with the committee assignments they received the committee assignments this year to keep all its new members incoming members who. In my judgment would be exceptionally good. I know of few if any members of the House who today I mean Democratic members were not pleased with the committee's whether white black or whether they come from a city 0 from the country whether young or old in between. The black members say they feel the new House leadership was more sympathetic to their desires than the old leadership. The fact that the Caucus members were organized helped but pressure was also put on the leadership from other sources especially from the new
members of Congress who are actually not to have to wait for a good committee assignments. The caucus it would seem deserve some but not all the credit. There was another interesting point brought out by the recent leadership changes in the house. While the Black Caucus did approach those running for leadership positions Caucus members did not vote as a bloc during the Democratic caucus. The 12 black congressman split their votes among several candidates for reasons having nothing to do with the Black Caucus. Representative Maurice you to all of our Zona who ran for the majority leader's position and lost explains I noticed kind of ironically I was a candidate for majority leader and we had a very intense campaign for four five months leading up to the caucus in January and the Black Caucus had meetings with each of the candidates and announced that they were going to use the clout of the increasingly large black membership to force events here to make sure that the man who got their voter block a vote who's the man who's going to do the
most for the blacks. Well the star sounded very good but I told someone there is no more unity in voting on this matter than in the black caucus than there was in the white caucus on the first ballot with five candidates. I think at least for the candidates had the black votes and they were scattered all over the place it into a kind of interesting study in other things overrode the Black Caucus concept of having a unit ruler unit vote black from one of the blacks in California felt obliged to vote cast for a candidate who was in California another black in that state felt other considerations were more important. One of the blacks had a personal friendship with another candidate because they sit next to each other on a committee and this was not a candidate who had been known to do a lot for Black to take a particular interest in the problem. Geography compelled two others to go for still another candidate same state idea. And so it went there was really no unity on a very crucial issue of this kind in the Black Caucus even though if they had announced that they were going to
be very careful about how they gave their votes and maybe even vote as a bloc. When many of the caucus members were asked if they ever disagreed with their fellow black congressman the answer was usually that it would be impossible to find any 12 congressmen on Capitol Hill who all agreed on all the same issues. The fact is that the 12 black members of Congress are all leaders from their own districts have very different personalities and of other things to consider besides race when they vote on any particular issue. A good example of this is the ss t the supersonic transport representative Augustus Hawkins is in favor of the project because it means jobs for the people in his district. Missouri's William Clay felt the pressure of labor unions in his district for whom the ss t also meant jobs. But Clay also felt the ss t was an example of misplaced priorities and so he voted against it. Black Caucus members than can often find themselves facing conflicting pressures as
can any other member of Congress. Charles Diggs of the tribe comes from a town where labor unions are strong aerospace plays a big part in the districts of Augustus Hawkins and William Clay two members of the caucus are from Illinois. And that means the Dally political machine Congressman Clay meets frequently with other Missouri congressman to discuss issues important to that state and other members do the same thing. Representative Yudof of our Zona feels that eventually these conflicting interests might create friction within the caucus and might split the group. I think one thing however you're going to have to you'll see develop in this Black Caucus and it's inevitable in human affairs I suppose you begin to see splits and feuds and conflicting ambitions and so far they've maintained a unity. But there are some very capable very bright and very ambitious men here and there's always a temptation to stake out a position for oneself as the spokesman for the black people of
America I'm afraid that down the road some of these conflicts which you're now all talk about quietly are not out in the open. May may burst out in the open a little bit more. The caucus has been careful not to let this happen. For one thing it does not take unanimous stands on issues its members do not agree upon. Eight of the 12 members must agree before the group takes a united stand out the chances are that if even one or two members are in very strong opposition no stand at all will be taken on that particular issue by the caucus. It is difficult to say who is the leader of the group and in fact there most probably is no single leader Charles Diggs is the chairman. But some members note he is the most senior man who wanted the job. Congressman Hawkins feels the biggest differences among the caucus members are in the area of style. I don't think we differ very much on issues I think that basically we differ pretty much on stunnel but not not really on issues I cant recall any
really specific basic issues on which weve had any great disagreement obviously on many. Minor issues we know we differ depending on our districts obviously on an issue which would involve let's say whether certain contracts let's say in defense would would go west or would stay East that those of us representing Western areas would be for these contracts going west depending on our districts. So there have been some regional differences. And there have been obviously some differences on personality is there which sometimes arise out of a regional or sectional interests. On the selection of a person such as leadership in the organization
of the Congress itself that would obviously be some of us who would favor one individual over another depending on what section of the country we come from. But these have been relatively minor and actually the differences have been I think almost negligible. Hawkins also sees the caucus as a moderating influence on black congressman polling all toward a middle position. I think that also that it will it will serve to some extent to reduce some of the rivalry that will exist always I think among minority groups because they are more militant and that is that there are certain great differences within the caucus among the members that style their approach to problems. And I think that as we progress and we find that clear cut answers are not always easy to come by that all of the members will
drift towards a a center in which the even the most conservative members will I think have more of a. Fighting posture and some of the most liberal ones I think will begin to understand that talk is one thing but that getting action is quite another thing and so I think that these differences will be somehow melted down to a good constructive approach to the problems of getting real results while the constituents and for the country. So the caucus keeps together in part by only taking up issues on which the members agree. By staying away from issues where the members strongly disagree and because Caucus members see the advantages of taking a united stand they are often willing to give a little in one way or the other. Eventually the Black Caucus hopes to get together a
staff and to begin studying issues to see how they affect blacks. The direct election of the president is a good example. Many blacks as Congressman Clay were for such reform because it was a liberal issue until it was discovered that the direct election of the president would weaken black political power. The caucus is now trying to raise $100000 to pay for a staff to make studies of how certain bills will affect blacks and to keep track of how well other congressmen represent their own black constituents. Perhaps the most optimistic view of the caucus comes from Representative John Conyers although not impressed with the changes that he has seen so far. CONYERS feels better things are on the horizon for blacks in Congress and he sees the caucus as part of a new black awareness. We recognize that the black caucus is a very new and exciting notion because it it does something that blacks have never been able to see before the formation
of black political leaders initiating their own programs speaking out to the president. Unifying against nominees to the Supreme Court fighting in mass for better kinds of legislation that affect the poor and especially the black. This is a very new and exciting concept to black people here regardless of what the immediate effect has been and been in terms of productivity So here is an exhilarating for them you're living example of black unity in a specific which no substance too much of the rhetoric that goes on in the black community in terms of uniting and joining together and becoming brothers and recognizing our heritage and gaining black consciousness.
- Special of the week
- Issue 20-71 "The Black Caucus"
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 20-71 "The Black Caucus",” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 6, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7m042n2s.
- MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 20-71 "The Black Caucus".” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7m042n2s>.
- APA: Special of the week; Issue 20-71 "The Black Caucus". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7m042n2s