When Augustus Hawkins arrived at the Kennedy Center last night, he walked quickly through the receiving line, waving away an invitation to join his colleagues. All day long Hawkins, one of the senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, had been saying that the caucus was losing its credibility because of its social visibility.
"I'm not mad or annoyed. I just think we could do a more constructive job. Right now it's 85 percent social and 15 percent business," said Hawkins. He hurriedly denied stories that he was boycotting the weekend. "No -- my criticism is just a constructive suggestion."
Hawkins' feelings, combined with criticism of the Caucus' partnership with President Carter and some intense discussions about accountability of elected officials, gave the first full day of the Caucus' annual weekend a tone of self-examination.
Right on the heels of the prayer at the morning opening session, a group of protesters raised signs and shouted slogans about genocide. Said Del. Walter Fauntroy, "I understand it was the same group who organized an interruption at the Harlem appearance of Vice President Mondale and Rosalynn Carter. It heightened our awareness that there are elements of the black community who feel we are not addressing issues related to the grassroots. I accept their sentiment, but I disagree that you can blame that on the black leadership."
At a workshop on the media, where the crowd overflowed into the hall, Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.) and Max Robinson, the ABC television anchorman, had a spirited exchange on the issue of accountability. Robinson called for tougher accountability. In response, Clay told how he was blamed by the black community when a hospital closed in St. Louis. "Now I want to know why they didn't criticize the white mayor, or the white governor, or the two white senators. There are 96 members of Congress who have large black constituencies. We should make them responsive to our needs."
After nearly 10 hours of legislative meetings, the Caucus adjourned to a crowded reception on Capitol Hill, then a leisurely, spacious gathering at the Kennedy Center and an elegant private party at the Four Seasons Hotel. The practical clothes of political brainstorming were exchanged for handpainted silk pantsuits, and ruffled ankle-length dresses and a tartan plaid tuxedo or two. When actress Cicely Tyson arrived at the Kennedy Center with attorney David Franklin, her feathered evening jacket prompted comment all around. And the non-appearance of the concert stars, Bill Cosby, Robert Flack and Peabo Bryson, at the pre-concert reception hardly caused a ripple. The guests had their picture taken with politicians, and lined up to exchange business cards.
Sitting by the sideline was Dorothy Height, the national president of the National Council of Negro Women and often the lone woman in black leadership conclaves. She was cautious in her judgment of the leadership's endorsement of Jimmy Carter as a reluctant or negative endorsement. "Unfortunately the lesser-of-two-evils rhetoric creates a misleading atmosphere. I think there's enough apathy among the voters, and we have to do everything to combat that, even in our rhetoric. There is no such thing as sitting it out. If you sit out, you are counted out," said Height, whose organization withholds any political endorsement.
At the reception James Joseph, the under secretary of the Interior, said he was pleased to see Thursday's show of support between the president and the Caucus. "But even when they were saying the worst of things about the president, their relationship with me was fine," said Joseph.
In contrast to the strong political bent of the Kennedy Center reception, the party at the Four Seasons had the serenity of success. Paid for by Isyaku Ibrahim, a Nigerian businessman, the party served as a base for interaction of local and foreign businessmen.
Politics were not absent, of course. The former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, and his wife Jean, greeted old friends. Young's brother, Walter, an Atlanta dentist, caucused with his friends. Most of the guests were a Black Enterprise success spread; Bruce Llewellyn, president of the Overseas Private Investment Corp.; John Jacobs, the executive director of the National Urban League; William Fitzgerald, the president of Independent Federal Bank and Rodney Gaines, a vice-president of TWA.
While some sophisticated networking went on around him, Andrew Young described the action. "This shows the emergence of some very practical economics. People who have gone to school together, who have worked together are reaching out for beneficial interaction."
Ibrahim was modest about his intentions, saying, "This is simply an occasion to see my many friends and pay them back for their friendship."