The minister giving the invocation talked about it. The award recipients warned against it. The evening's emcee described it and the paying guests at the Washington Urban League's dinner last night let out long, hard sighs whenever it was mentioned.
Most of the 800 guests responded emotionally to any word of the conservative mood in the country and the collective state of siege they feel has come with the Reagan administration's budget cuts. "We could all double up and have a funeral here tonight because of what is going on," said Samuel Proctor, the senior minister of New York's abyssinian Baptist Church. He called the conservative tide "resistance to our progress," saying "it has become acceptable to put black folks down."
In the budget plans for economic recovery the National Urban League stands to lose $17 million. The local league will lose, according to its president, Jerome Page, hundreds of thousands of dollars for its veterans, aging and job training programs. Yesterday the national president, Vernon Jordan, and other league officials met with Labor Secretary Ray Donovan.
"It was a good productive meeting," said the league's vice president, Maudine Cooper. "We let him know that we are not going to sleep while the budget cuts are being made."
Other organizations besides the League are faced with closing down skill development projects. "It's severe in that not only is there a possibility that the programs will be dismantled, but the staff and participants across the country will be out of work," said Alma Brown, the director of a women's training program of the National Council of Negro Women. The targeted cuts in the Labor Department's budget, said Brown, will affect thousands of trainees in approximately 15 national offices.
One White House aide at the dinner, Melvin Bradley of the Office of Policy Development, said he "was satisfied so far with the budget."
The dinner, named in honor of the late Whitney Young Jr., the president who guided the organization through the years of the civil rights movement, honored five Washington community activists. Thelma Rutherford, a veteran participant in several social welfare areas; Vincent Reed, the former superintendent of the D.C. public schools; H. Carl Moultrie, the chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court; Alyce Gullattee, a psychiatrist who specializes in drug addiction; and Samuel Jackson, a former assistant secretary of HUD in the Nixon administrations, all evoked the memory of Young. "The rising conservative tide challenges the gains he fought so hard for," said Jackson.
Denounced were not only the budget trimmings but also what was perceived as as uglier national mood. Rev. Proctor told the story of a black physicist with a degree from Cambridge University who came back to his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to find the greeting "nigger go home" on his door. "But we ought not to be packing up for Haiti, Nigeria or the Bahamas," said Proctor. "We outlasted Nixon and we will outlast Reagan."