It was a special moment in history. The nation's first organization designed to focus solely on the political empowerment of black women was formed Friday by some of the same black women who a week ago criticized the absence of blacks in Geraldine Ferraro's initial announcement of her campaign staff.
It is all but assured that former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm will be elected chair of the new National Black Women's Political Caucus when its members meet to ratify the organization on Thursday.
Black organization women have focused largely on social and service sororities and clubs. National organizations such as The Links support black colleges, economic and cultural life. The National Council of Negro Women stresses civil rights. Political organizations such as the Black Women's Agenda largely stress voter education. But all of these groups, because of their tax-exempt status, have to limit their political involvement.
For more than a year black women leaders have been gravitating toward an openly political organization that would give them a platform and the clout to focus on the unique and neglected problems of the black female. But their lack of power within the Democratic Party as demonstrated at the convention and in its aftermath provided the catalyst for prompt action.
"The liberal-flavored politics of the '50s and '60s is over," declared C. Delores Tucker, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, who led the founding meeting. "The paternal and maternal politics is over. There has to be a peer political relationship. If that doesn't exist then there is no relationship. We don't need brokers anymore. We will broker for ourselves."
Still, they stressed a double agenda -- not only to have an impact on politics between now and November (they will be recommending persons for jobs in the Mondale-Ferraro campaign), but also to focus on the long fight -- after the November race.
There was one emotional moment when Chisholm spoke of why such an organization was needed: "When is it black women are going to realize that God helps those who help themselves? We're going to have to realize we can no longer be timid or reluctant . . . . We were appendages in San Francisco trying to get our little piece of input . . . . We can have input . . . . We have to form our own organization. I'm 60 years old and I'm at the end of my rope in trying not to upset black men . . . not to upset white women."
The first big question facing the women was whether the new organization should seek to influence only the Democratic Party, to which most blacks belong, or to have broader influence on America and its political institutions. The conveners were at first almost evenly divided on that point. They opted for the independent route.
Jesse L. Jackson dropped in briefly and gave an impassioned speech on the need to have an independent black women's caucus and pledged his energies to help the new organization. "You don't have to start from dead zero. There are a lot of ways you can plug into existing apparatuses," he said.
In addition to Chisholm and Tucker, founding participants included: Dr. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Mary Berry of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Eleanor Holmes Norton, Georgetown University Law School; Hortense Canady, Delta Sigma Theta; Faye Bryant, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Willie Barrow, director of the Women's Network; labor women Addie L. Wyatt, Sheila High King and Marilyn Robinson; elected officials Charlene Drew Jarvis, Hilda Mason, Cardiss Collins; political activists Donna Brazile, Barbara Williams Skinner, and Jewel Jackson McCabe, president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Invited participants unable to attend included Sharon Pratt Dixon and California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters. Coretta Scott King and Mary Hatwood Futtrell have been invited to the Thursday ratification meeting.
The group's mission includes encouraging every black woman to engage in political activity, beginning with registering to vote and learning the process; developing and encouraging black women to seek office at all levels, endorsing and supporting and providing financial support for candidates and encouraging the appointment of black women at all levels of government and in all political parties.
"Millions of black women in particular remain outside of both participation and leadership in American politics," the group's statement declares. "Without them, America cannot hope to eliminate poverty, inequality, joblessness and the threat of war and destruction."