Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"We are telling a lie," said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), "if we say you are considered innocent until proven guilty in this country."
Speaking at a reception for Rep. Charles C. Diggs (D-Mich), the fiery former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus treated his embattled colleague as a symbol of black leadership generally. "We are in a whole lot of trouble," said Rangel, "and it is no coincidence that Charlie's name is on list."
Diggs, the senior black member of Congress, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, chairman of the House District Committee and of the subcommittee on Africa of the House International Relations Committee, is under indictment for alleged diversion of $101,000 in congressional payroll funds.
A benefit reception for his legal defense fund, held Tuesday night at the Museum of African Art, attracted 170 supporters, with suggested contributions ranging from $25 to $100.
A majority of the Congressional Black Caucus attended, according to D.C. Rep. Walter E. Fauntroy, who served as master of ceremonies, as well as other members of Congress, diplomats interested in Africa, and a large proportion of ordinary citizens from the District of Columbia - "We are your other constitutents," one of them told the Michigan congressman, who is the first black chairman the District Committee has had.
"Charlie Diggs cannot win this law-suit," Rangel told the guests assembled in the museum's courtyard. "He has Edward Bennett Williams - he's going to win a lot of money - but Charlie can only have his innocence proven.
"I'm not just giving to Charlie, I'm thinking of myself. None of us knows when we are going to need counsel."
Before and after the legal defense oratory, guests wandered through the three floors of the museum, which is currently featuring an exhibit of brilliantly colored, handwoven modern tapestries from Senegal.
Sipping white wine or soft drinks, sampling the excellent buffet (pastries, fresh fruit, canapes), the visitors browsed the bright tapestries or the masks, statues and paintings in the museum's permanent collection.
Conversations ranged from Africa ("Have you been to Senegal? It's probably the only country in the world that has a major poet for its president - and one of the few with a bigger budget for the arts than for armaments") to the threatening weather.
"I had three meetings to attend tonight," said one woman, "but I had to come here and show Charlie Diggs I'm with him." "Did you notice all the media people?" said another. "I saw Delores Handy - I don't think she was working."
After the speeches out in the courtyard, the clouds darkened, the wind became so strong that plastic glasses began flying off the table, and the party moved inside.
In public addresses and private conversations at the reception, the name of "Adam" kept cropping up, and no one there had to add the full name of Adam Clayton Powell to be understood. The invocation of this name symbolized a widespread feeling, shared by many in the white minority among those present, that the indictment of Diggs was part of a pattern familiar from the downfall of Powell in the late '60s.
Former Judge Charles Halleck, who said that he had been a victim of similar treatment, asked: "Out of all the men in Congress, why is Charlie Diggs being chosen as the scapegoat?
"In the Nixon years." Halleck said, "we learned a lot about the mentality in government that makes lists of enemies. I am not convinced that that mentality has entirely departed from Washington."
Digg's congressional colleagues from Michigan were among his most vocal supporters at the reception. Former congressman James O'Hara called him "one of the best congressmen I knew in 18 years in that body," and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said simply, "I'll go to the wall for Charlie Diggs".
From his colleagues in the Black Caucus, the comments ranged from the simple, "Hey Charlie, we're by your side" of Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) to the elaborate tribute of Fauntroy: "People of this city owe the very deepest gratitude to the life and work of Charlie Diggs - and not only the people of this city, but black people around the world."
Referring obliquely to Diggs' much-discussed financial problems, Fauntroy remarded: "I know what it means to give and to have the people to whom you give say, 'I'll pay you Saturday.'"
Rep. Ralph Metcalfe (D-III.) said that "we are living in very perilous times . . . I've been investigated; many black leaders have been investigated. If you think history can't repeat itself, you are sadly mistaken."
"I don't know whether Diggs is quitting or not, and I don't give a damn," said one prominent Washington attorney (not for attribution). "I don't think you'll get 11 jurors in the District of Columbia to convict Charlie Diggs of anything. I'd be happy to go on trial with the first 11 who walk into the box."
Rep. Parren Mitchell(D-Md.), current chairman of the Black Caucus, praised Diggs' efforts to "reverse our country's crazy African policy" and said that "there simply would not be a Black Caucus without Charlie Diggs."
Diggs himself, speaking quietly after the fiery oratory that introduced him, said that his case involves "the whole question of due process.
"There is a nervousness running through the whole country," he added, "because of what seem to be excesses or abuse of power by some people in the executive department."
Unlike the other speakers, Diggs was low-key, nostalgic, a bit scholarly in tone, and hard to hear on a windy evening in an outdoor coutryard.
"Speak louder," said a voice from the crowd. "You're among friends."