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This is a federal case. From Washington D.C. the National Educational radio network brings you an examination of current issues facing our nation and its capital city. Here is NPR and correspondent John King. In the 90 second Congress 13 men will be speaking for the needs and aspirations of black people nationwide there are now about 18 100 black elected officials from mayors down to court clerks and school board members. That's significant progress. Or is it. And the new generation there's an unequalled impatience rising expectations not easily satisfied by gradual gains but decades of injustice seem to have destroyed in many cases what sociologists call the deferred gratification pattern. They're no longer willing to wait for what they see is rightfully theirs anyway and they refuse to put up with the pain today in exchange for a reward tomorrow. Blacks comprise about 12 and a half percent of the US population
to gain proportional representation in Washington. They would need about 55 of the 435 House of Representative seats and 12 or 13 of the 100 Senate posts. Most blacks can see that this is still a long way off. What about the progress that has been made. Does it really mean anything. I ask Representative John Conyers of Detroit where the line between tokenism and substance can be drawn is one I suppose that many people could have perfectly differing but valid opinions. Now I suppose if I were required to draw up a list of things that happened because black people were around to be pretty had to do it it's hard to figure out any of the individual input in that operation. I know it's 535 people who are participating and I know you can do is speculate on what would have happened if you had taken John Conyers out of
here already and Powell hadn't been in this situation. If Congressman Moran downed had not been here and if had been there. But to give you some answer I suppose everything counts and all of this does feed and. And I can say that there is more determination and more a sense of purposefulness among the black members that any time that I can remember since I came here and 965. There's a new feeling that we have. A responsibility in many ways it's a responsibility that we feel in the form of a challenge even We've got to produce to prove to our own black constituents. That this system can serve some usefulness by encouraging as we continue to
do our black political participation. And we feel this is a very direct challenge and one that we have an obligation to as long as remain we remain proud of the leadership in this system. And to be hell answer. And it's it's an awesome burden it's one that black leaders didn't used to have with the same kind of intensity that we have now. But it's leading somewhere. Where is it leading. Well that's more difficult to answer. Psychologist Kenneth Clark in 1969 referred to the involvement of black people in politics as the new cutting edge of the civil rights movement. Universal a black congressman echoed that statement. Edwin Sexton is a special consultant to the Republican National Committee. He's charged with advising the GOP on Minority Affairs. I think the only. New. Movement
which should come from the black community relative to the civil rights movement must come between two areas and this is the area of economic development and political development was my concern is that there's only two avenues of which I think we have time for revolution. But it's got to be from within the system. And certainly I feel that it's got to come through political development and economic development and political development to the extent that blacks are involved in a two party system and a black showing the structure. Of both parties. And that would be something new. There are some Republican black elected officials but not many since the Roosevelt days blacks have joined labor in voting Democratic. But Sexton feels there's no reason the Republican shouldn't get some of the black vote. And I think this will come and there's coming. And why should I Blacks belong to one party or they don't I belong to one church they don't wear the same suit. Still an
oblong have one car. Chevrolet off Ford. And so it's ridiculous for all blacks and it certainly is showing up when the blacks are beginning to recognize that he's being hoodwinked and has been hoodwinked for many many years because this has happened. There's been so much rhetoric. And we've been so emotionally hung up on this that I think that the younger blacks and certainly the more intelligent I'm beginning to see that my God that the avenue is not through voting 98 percent Democrat but beginning to vote. Let's take a look at both parties. There's a certain amount of agreement among blacks on the idea that a real two party system for black people would be better if there were competition for the black vote between Republicans and Democrats. Congressman Conyers has a grim assessment of the situation. To have a black person in the Republican primary suggest Democratic
weaknesses to black people. And then at the same time admitting the white and the Republican weaknesses to black people which is even more profound I think is an amazing discussion which I'd like to go into. There's no doubt that the Democrats have promised. Much and delivered little. But of course the Republicans have promised nothing and they've ever had less. The truth of the matter of course. Is that further in the overwhelming number of elections on which black people in America are called upon to protest debate. There in the NO CHOICE political bag they're choosing between nothing. They either vote for something they really are honestly not satisfied with in terms of a candidate or they don't vote it are. What. What kind of choice does the average black person have if his candidate never even
gets on the ballot to begin with and if he dares he's usually defeated overwhelmingly in many instances to choose between a Republican and a Democrat is the absolute. An exercise in futility both of my races unaware of the black problem with and support it. I can't be trusted or counted on do not relate to the necessities of black people. So what's the difference. Nonetheless we're entering a very political couple of years aiming at 972 when presumably Richard M. Nixon will stand for re-election. The blacks in the House of Representatives have made it abundantly clear that so far they don't feel President Nixon has been responsive to the needs of black people. Missouri Congressman William Clay in fact called an unprecedented boycott of the Presidents State of the Union message by the blacks in the house. The White House apparently had scrupulously avoided any direct meetings sought by the congressman to voice their concern on the needs of their
constituents. So Clay for one already is looking toward 972. I propose number one that this country elect. A man to the White House who is going to give leadership to the total country. And you can't just ignore 12 percent of your citizens as this administration has done. You can't impose the kinds of criteria. As the president of this United States has imposed on his administration completely ignore the needs hopes and the aspirations of so large a segment of your community. And I think that the policies of this administration have had a deadly toll on the lives of black people. Mr. Nixon has offered very little hope to black people across this country. And what I think we need in this country is a president
is willing to give the marl leadership. To divest himself of political consequences. And we need a president just willing to get up before this nation and say that there are some things that are right morally right. They may be politically unwise. But Representative Clay says it's really too soon to know if blacks will be able to unite behind the Democratic candidate in 1972. We would have to know who is going to be that candidate and I'm sure that we're going to make an effort to try and help determine who the standard bearer of the Democratic Party will be. It may possibly develop that the candidate on the Democratic Party. It might not be acceptable to the black community either. And then we have a real problem if that's the case. Gregory That's right we may have to support Dick Gregory. I think our country has reached a sorry state when
both Democrats and Republicans who are vying for national office. On running are Fred to even speak to the question of race in this country. And my criticism and the criticisms of that level of Mr. Nixon that has been leveled at him because he has the responsibility to do something about it that I could level the same criticisms that it that some of the top candidates on the Democratic side. They have refused to speak out openly and frankly on the problems that confront black America to perhaps said Sexton's theory is right that the Republicans can get the black vote. Urban League director Whitney Young seems to feel that sense neither party has been responsive in the past. Neither party can succeed by doing something that I don't think the black community is going to respond to rhetoric. They're going to respond only through tangible concrete things because of this regime. But the
group that I'm talking about certainly could if it was actually a nonstarter and a visible tangible concrete weight of these programs. I think a black community would go with him. I don't think that the black American in a long time may consider then anybody's pocket. I think we as concerned about being taken for granted by the Democrats as we have been in the past concerned about being ignored. Not a Republicans and I think we can now look to the to the man and respond to what they do the programs that they institute for grabs that really do. Whitney Young met with the president last December and told newsmen afterwards he was hopeful the administration would do something. The president for his part expressed a determination to make the Republican Party the party of the open door meeting the needs of all people. But as all black officials agree it will hinge not on rhetoric but on performance. Speaking of performance what can 13
black members do when a congress of 535. That's hardly a working majority. But in the past they have been able to combine with liberals and other interest groups. One of the new faces California's Ron Dellums favors this approach I think the 12 black members of the house. Can Have a great deal of impact on what happened on Capitol Hill. If we start out for example as 12 blacks. Who are. Dealing with questions that specifically affect the lives of black people and we take the impetus of the 12. And then begin to move with other racial minorities in Congress and other progressive thinking. Right in Congress you then start to build a movement and the 12 blacks can be the courier's can be the spearhead for bringing that kind of mobilization that kind of pressure to many of our fellow colleagues who really. Are representing districts.
That if they work with and collect other kind of human beings will they have to be relevant. I'm here in Washington because I was able to unseat a 12 year Liberal incumbent with a coalition of blacks and browns and young white and anti-war people in the colleges. The coalition can be put together in many other places in this country. And so I think that the kind of pressure that we can bring is the pressure of making the elected officials who've been able to diet certain kinds of questions to have to come forward and have to lay themselves on the line. And I think we can be effective as a pressure group as a spearhead as a lobbying group to begin to be are far beyond the numbers of 12 just as we are only 12 in Congress. We're only 10 to 15 percent of this country. And so the only way that you can function is to be able to is to 1. Take the power block that you have and keep that together and then move out into the broad of coalition that you can to achieve the kind of numbers and power that you desperately need.
Representative Clay agrees to an extent. He says through guiding their colleagues the black congressman should be able to develop a hardcore bloc of support of about 75 votes. But Clay would go a step beyond this. I think what's happening in the country politically as far as blacks are concerned is that no political philosophy is evolving and it's a very selfish type of philosophy. It's based on the same selfish motives that all other people in this country have are going to stand united around. And basically what the new emerging black political philosophy is saying is that we have no permanent friends we have no permanent enemies just permanent interests and that we're going to take all that we can and we're going to give up what we must. Now this is this is this means that at some point. If the interest of black
people is not being sufficiently considered we as a group may have to vote against the total interest of this country and this is the kind of hard and fast decisions that blacks and this Congress are going to have to make if we're going to be effective. You see there's a lot of legislation that goes through here that's controversial and is only passing by three or four five votes and it's passing because the blacks for the most part have then only those who are asking for reform within the total government. But I think we're that we're going to have to reassess our position and our position is going to have to be if what you're advocating is reform for the total government does not take into concern. The interests of blacks then we're going to have to say to hell with the total government if we're not going to benefit as a point as a distinct point. You see in politics you have to sit
down and compromise. And one of the things that is happening is that the Conservatives and the Southerners have not been willing to compromise with blacks because they feel that they can always appeal to the blacks whenever they need them on the basis of loyalty loyalty to the country and what's good for the country. But what I'm saying in effect is that blacks in this house may have to become obstructionist. We may have to take the position that to hell with the country. If if you were so law and so patriotic then you would be aware and concerned about the interests of black people and you and this same law altie and the same patriotism would. Display itself when our interests are at stake. And I'm saying that in effect we may have to become retaliatory and obstructionist. And I'm perfectly willing to play this role and I think a number of other blacks in the Congress
will be willing to play this role. But what about backlash. Isn't this a new political militancy going to make some powerful enemies. Well you know that's been one of the questions that has been a asked every since blacks started exerting themselves and demanding their equal rights. And the question is always they ask that always advanced it. Now if you antagonize these people how do you think you're going to get what you want and less rights the right of you. Well I think we have come to the point of really realizing that we're in a struggle that we're not seeking and we're not in an OIG we don't want to know and I could care less whether they love me but they're going to respect me as long as I stay in this Congress and they gonna respect me because I'm going to make them respect me one way or the other. Of course the key to power in Congress is through the leadership and committee structure.
And there were some unprecedented efforts in these areas early this year the Black Caucus all 12 House members gathered liberal backing for a tried replacing an entrenched Southerner as chairman of the House District Committee with one of their own measure against Charles Diggs and John Conyers made a campaign for the job of speaker of the house. It was thought of course that Conyers never really had a chance for the post retired Speaker John McCormick could tap his loyal Democratic leader Carl Albert his heir when he first made known his intentions of leaving Washington. But Conyers says he didn't view Albert as a sensitive aggressive leader and so when it became clear that nobody of the two hundred and fifty three Democrats of the 90 second current group would stand with the program and purpose to hold themselves to the Democratic Congress for these next two years. They began to.
Become inescapable on my pact. That if I perceive this so clearly if I recognize the limitations of the only candidate if I was the only one willing to stand up why then could I do anything else but horn myself up as an opponent regardless of what the outcome would be. And so this whole question of a black person running for the speaker of the house became imperative if if my style of politics is real to me and it is and it isn't for me to wait until 1984 or some quite Democrat says Congressman Conyers Why don't you run for speaker of the house. But of course it's mindblowing in 1971 that a black congressman would suggest that he should give leadership to his white
colleagues. And of course many of the members are totally unprepared for black people to make these kinds of assertions. They're used to advising black people when to be how to vote what to do. And I'm I'm aware of this and that and as a leader not of black people but as a leader I have to take this into cognisance I have to be able to develop a relationship with my white colleague who has never dreamed that he might have to march to the tune of a black leader. But this is this is all quite possible. So far there are no blacks in leadership positions in the predominately white Congress but there are blacks in Congress representing a predominately white district in Massachusetts as early as 1966 Edward Brooke was chosen as Republican
senator by a constituency between two and three percent black in Baltimore last fall sociology professor Perrin Mitchell became the first black ever sent to Congress from Maryland by defeating a white incumbent in the Democratic primary then winning the general election in a district only 40 percent black. And Ron Dellums coming to Washington from the Berkeley Oakland California area also represents a district in which blacks are not the majority. Obviously these people have to campaign on platforms which cut across racial lines. Here's Dellums approach. My politics. Are. Based on a very fundamental assumption. Assumption number one. That if we're going to enhance the lives of blacks and other racial minorities and other people who desperately need help. And we have to build the broadest possible coalition that we can to achieve that kind of humanitarian change and that coalition must be built across racial lines across FX lines generation lines an
etiological ladder even class lines. And so in the campaign that I ways that try to demonstrate that much more fundamentally than I was trying to win that you can put black brown red and yellow people in old and young people in men and women and people from different political persuasions together if they are to understand that their self-interest can be achieved. In objectives that speak to the self-interest of other human beings. And so I'm black and I feel a responsibility as a black person to speak to those issues and I'm a member of the racial minorities in this country so I feel a need to respond to the issues that affect racial minorities. I'm a human being and so I feel the need to respond to the issues that confront human beings in this country irrespective of their color or where they come from. And we can't talk about black economics without dealing with the economic situation in this country or to kind of education without looking at the totality of education in America. You can't talk about the justice to one group without talking about the lack of justice to a large number of human beings in
this society. And so that's the kind of politics that I'm talking about. And as a black obviously there's a certain degree of attention that comes to me as one out of 12 people in a sea of 435 people I'd like to try to use that to the advantage not only of the black community but people who desperately need help in this country across racial lines and oppressed groups of human beings. What about the young people in America whose only crime it seems to me is their willingness to stand up and challenge the society to mean exactly what has been written down on documents that are the underpinnings of a democratic society. And what I've said before and something I fundamentally believe in is that you don't have to be black to be treated as a nigger in a society in a long class a case in point is the fact that for young whites it can't Ohio. For. Doing one thing. Implementing the utilizing rights guaranteed in the first minute of the Constitution
and I think that's wrong. And so what is taking place in 1971 was becoming very apparent to blacks and other human beings. If that we can no longer afford the luxury of allowing the quote establishment unquote to continue to divide us into smaller conquerable groups Dellums is approaching his duties with almost a missionary zeal. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt he hopes to use his seat in the Capitol as a bully pulpit to speak out against the wrongs in America and the world. But he and all the other black officials in the country will have another job this year too because of the 1970 census election districts voting power must be re apportioned to beat the Supreme Court's one man one vote decision. In the past redistricting has been a common means of denying black communities of their representation by gerrymandering dividing up the black concentrations and parceling them along with larger white concentrations. This is something all black officials are warning about now and
they say the guard must be kept up. Representative Mitchell In fact says he will go to court if necessary to keep from being ousted from Congress through redistricting. He told the new Democratic coalition meeting he does not ask for a guarantee of a congressional seat but rather in his words a fair and equitable drawing of the lines so that any person even a black person has a fair chance to slug it out and win an election. On the more optimistic side there is also a feeling that blacks may gain from the reapportionment Representative Clay told us. I think that after the nineteen seventies census. Has been released. And the state legislature started drawing new districts. I'm not of the opinion that it's going to increase the number of black representatives in Congress substantially. I can see and certain areas and particularly in the south where it's going to be almost impossible to draw
A Federal Case II
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"A Federal Case II" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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Chicago: “A Federal Case II; 21,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 17, 2022,
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APA: A Federal Case II; 21. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from