At one point during Saturday night's fund-raiser for Trans-Africa, a new lobby for Africa and the Caribbean, only candlelights flickered in the hotel hall. A libation was poured. Incense burned and chants were yelled. Then, prompted by the fiery singing of The National Black Theater, everyone at the 50 tables held hands, swayed in their chairs and repeated slogans of black unity.
In the rear of the Shoreham Americana Regency Rom, ambassador Andre Coulbray of Senegal; Chester Carter, businessman and former ambassador; C. Payne Lucas, the director of Africare; Barney Coleman, a foreign affairs consultant; and their wives, all raised their clasped hands and cheered. The performers, led by founder Barbara Ann Teer declared, "Africa is blackness, blackness is supreme."
Randall Robinson, the executive director of Trans-Africa, said he hoped the evening's unity and spirit could be captured for the lobby's ongoing programs. "It is the responsibility of this group to make clear to the administration that our foreign policy concerns are on a plane with our domestic concerns. And that we are going to mobilize this constituency and make it heard," said Robinson, an attorney who left Rep. Charles Diggs' (D-Mich.) staff to start the lobby.
John Jacobs, the Washington director of the National Urban League, thought the new black coalition for foreign affairs would be successful. "One of the possible effects of this mutual interest in Africa and vice versa -- could be to affect the appointment of black ambassadors in Africa and then a sensitizing process of the whole foreign policy structure."
Even with the National Black Theater's performance, the evening was low-keyed and quick. Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond and Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gray, Ind., spoke. Hatcher, the chairman of TransAfrica's board, said the lobby was urgently needed. "Especially with the distorted picture being presented to the public this week of events in Zaire," said Hatcher. "We have bbeen seen screaming headlines that list the Europeans killed, as if the brothers and sisters who are dying were not important." His remarks were enthusiastically applauded.
Especially encouraging to the organizers was the good turn-out, 500 people at $50 - non-tax-deductable - for an unknown organization. Several trade unions and sororities were represented as well as a dozen African ambassadors. Only Marison Barry and Art Fletcher, both candidates for mayor, and Douglas Moore and Hilda Mason of the D.C. City Council were present from the local political crowd. No members of the Congressional Black Caucus were there, though the lobby grew out of its task force on African issues.
Among the supporters were Lisle Carter, president of the University of the District of Columbia; ROger Estep, a Howard University vice president; John Kinard, director of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum; Eddie Williams, president of the Joint Center for political Studies and Ben Brown of the Democratic National Committee.
Some of the guests even pitched in to help the evening go smoothly. George Dalley of the State Department and Mary Helen Thompson of Rep. Louis Stokes' office distributed the programs.
The audience might have represented a too-comfortable segment, pointed out Jeff Donaldson, former chairman of Howard's art department. "When people are this established, it's hard for them to fight the government to take a chance. But also it's important we begin at this level," said Donaldson, pointing above his towering fame, "because we have started at the bottom before it has taken too long.