The ritual of testimonial was going on around Kenneth B. Clark and he took it in stride. He played with a gold cigarette lighter, he held his forehead in his right hand and squirmed at the adulation, the kisses and the roll call of his legacy.
But when it was the eminent psychologist's turn, in front of 1,000 people gathered at the annual Joint Center for Political Studies dinner last night, he said, "You can't help but question the validity of what you have done. You can't escape the turbulence of self-assessment."
And then he said things aren't as good as they should be. In spite of black gains over the past decades "psychological genocide which American racism imposes on society continues to inflict damage on our children," Clark continued, slowly, almost painfully.
The ritual of testimonial almost overpowered the serious note of last night's dinner for the country's principal black think tank on political and social issues. There was an astonishing display of picture-posing and glad-handing that started with a closed-door VIP reception and continued throughout most of the dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
"I am the sacrificial lamb here," Clark said, looking around and over corporate heads, federal officials and civil-rights leaders.
"He cries easily. He's bitter that our society has failed to recognize what they are doing to young black people," said Franklin Williams, president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund who has known Clark 38 years.
"We traveled a lot of the same paths," said Common Cause founder John Gardner, himself a liberal conscience from the public and private sector. "I greatly admire his courage -- he's a person who speaks his mind and doesn't care whether his opponents or friends disagree. A very good voice in difficult times."
The guests came from every facet of life that Clark has worked in and influenced, including bureaucrats, civil-rights fighters and the academicians.
"Ken once said something about being an egghead but that his eggs were scrambled," said Idris Rossell of the Department of State.
The night's ritual also included grabbing a few minutes for serious business. Drew Days, assistant attorney general for civil rights, arrived with an overflowing briefcase. He was automatically stopped by attorney Sam Jackson, who was lobbying to get more black nominees to the federal bench.
When Jack Watson, President Carter's assistant for integovernmental affairs, walked in Richard Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, Ind., grabbed his hand. "Today was the best meeting I've had yet at the White House. Two months ago they didn't want to talk about counter-cyclical aid to cities and now they have developed the most precisely targeted piece of legislation this White House has sent to Congress," Hatcher said.
Later, in the cavernous ballroom, Wiley Branton, dean of the Howard University Law School who was substituting as emcee for Georgia State Sen. Julian Bond who was ill, scolded the milling crowd. "I know this is old home week but..."
Yet when Clark spoke nobody had to rap for attention.
In one light moment, Charles L. Brown, chairman of the board of AT&T, had jokingly applogized for not being the real (comic strip) Charlie Brown. Clark answered, "Many times I have been mistaken for Sir Kenneth Clark and I have to say, 'No, I'm the uncivilized one.'"