A story in yesterday's Style section incorrectly reported the location of the Congressional Black Caucus's dinner Saturday night. It was at the Washington Hilton. (Published 10/2/90)
Rep. Ron Dellums had a lot on his mind. It was pushing midnight, five hours after the festivities had begun for Saturday's Congressional Black Caucus Annual Awards Dinner at the Capital Hilton, but the keynote speaker was just warming up -- he even took off his bow tie and unbuttoned the top button of his tux shirt. He wanted to tell the audience of 3,000 not only the history of the Black Caucus, but also just what was bothering him.
"Sorry to be taking so long," he said 20 minutes into his speech, "but it's taken me 20 years to get here, and there's a lot I want to say."
"Keep on talking, Ron!" shouted someone as others cheered and applauded.
So he did.
He said the 24-member Black Caucus supported environmental reforms 20 years ago. It called for sanctions against South Africa 20 years ago. It declared that the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act was "absurd" five years ago. And backed a female and a black for president -- dinner guest Shirley Chisholm -- "a long, long time ago!"
"We were ahead of our time," he proclaimed, "and our colleagues did not join us ... because they lacked the courage to stand with us."
He spoke about the budget negotiations and changing priorities. "The Cold War is over. You going to fly B-2 bombers over Third World nations? Nations that don't have radar? If the B-2 can't be seen by most of the world, just tell them we have 100. They won't know we're lying!"
This killed the crowd.
"We know something is wrong with a society where you can find money to house an MX missile and not our people," he said. "We are the Democrats. We are the real Democrats because what we are about is what the Democrats should be about. What Americans should be about. We are the real Americans!
"The president is threatening to veto the civil rights bill 26 years after the first one. Is that progress?" he asked. "And now they're talking about limiting terms for members of Congress. It took me 20 years to get here! Gramm-Rudman: no accountability. Limitation: no choice. The world is rushing toward democracy and we're running to fascism!"
The room filled with cheering, applause and laughter.
Then he said he wanted to address a subject that had been a sore point all week, right up to the 500-person VIP reception earlier in the evening: a statement at a news conference a week ago by Japanese Minister of Justice Seiroku Kajiyama. After saying prostitutes would "ruin the atmosphere" of a neighborhood, Kajiyama added, "It's like in America when neighborhoods become mixed because blacks move in, and whites are forced out." (He went to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday to "retract the remarks and apologize.")
"Why do only African Americans stand up against such remarks?" Dellums asked. "Mr. Bush, challenge the Japanese on their racism and their bigotry! You're our president too!" That brought the people to their feet.
Then came the close.
"We've been saying serious things this week. But the press puts us on the Style page. Not the black press. But the other press. They put us on the Style page while we were talking about our humanity. About our agenda. If they put us on the Style section, you rebel! You rebel! You write and you call! Because we are here to work. We got cleaned up and got dressed up tonight to celebrate. But tomorrow we'll be back on the job!"
That was the end of a marathon evening and the finale to a week of work and social activities marking the 20th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus. It is an event that, as Jesse Jackson put it, "has become like a family reunion festival. People work it into their schedule. It's almost as religious as Yom Kippur."
Guests in the main ballroom paid $5,000 and $10,000 a table to dine on tournedos with bearnaise and filet of salmon, swing to the music of Melba Moore, listen to the words of Dellums and possibly meet one of the many celebrity guests. In a smaller ballroom, people paid $150 apiece for the same meal and the chance to watch the gala on closed-circuit television.
Moore, dressed in an olive green suit with faux fur cuffs and a pillbox with a net, went from table to table in the main ballroom, posing for family photo album pictures. Jackson held court at the front table with Quincy Jones, the CBC Foundation President's Award winner, to his left and Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, the Harold Washington Award winner, to his right. Guests of note, such as tennis player Zina Garrison, came to them to say hello.
"Zina! Zina!" shouted Jackson as Garrison greeted Wilder. "Zina! Stay away from Doug!" She didn't pay much attention. "Zina!" he continued, grabbing at her hand and pulling her away, "Zina! Doug plays golf!"
"So do I!" she retorted, and the table broke out in laughter.
D.C. Democratic mayoral candidate Sharon Pratt Dixon, attending with her sister and her cousin, gracefully made the rounds. So did Miss Black U.S.A., Jasmine Turner of St. Croix, who was dolled up in a poufy white gown and a six-inch-high gold spire crown. Also on hand were D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (with his wife, Effi), Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown, Andrew Young, California State Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown Jr. (Adam Clayton Powell Award winner), Rep. Cardiss Collins (William L. Dawson Award recipient), U.S. Senate candidate Harvey Gantt of North Carolina and D.C. delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Singers Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Gregory Abbott, and actress Jonelle Allen of the sitcom "Generations" flashed perfect smiles and shook hands.
Local radio personality Cathy Hughes, who arrived in a white Rolls-Royce with gold windshield wipers, schmoozed a bit.
L.A. Lakers superstar Magic Johnson was possibly the only no-show. "He's somewhere between here and Spain with food poisoning," said Pepsico executive Earl Graves.
Jackson checked out a couple of tables, including the heavily guarded one where Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan sat. The Rev. Al Sharpton caught a glimpse of Jackson with Farrakhan and tried to make his way over there but was detained when he got wedged between a table and one of the army of exasperated hotel waiters, this one hoisting a tray of salads.
Wilder never had to move. The women flocked to him.
Chief Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, chairman and CEO of ITT Nigeria and Concord Airline of Nigeria and recipient of the 1990 CBC Chairman's Award for Excellence in Service, didn't have to get up either. His flowing robes -- yards of white cloth -- and gold-sequined and brocade fez caused the curious to approach him.
"Who's that?" asked one woman.
"Oh, that's the, the, the king of Africa," sputtered another.
"The whole continent?" asked the first. "That's pretty good."
But this was more than a night to get dressed up and meet important people.
"We have seemed to reduce the social and push up the substance," said the CBC legislative weekend chairman, Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), of the CBC's annual five-day event. The current issues facing the black community, he said, are "the same as 20 years ago: adequate health care, affordable housing, good education and equal protection. I know what Santa Claus feels like now. Once you get through Christmas, it's time to start building toys again. It's never complete."