The nation's black mayors concluded a three-day meeting here yesterday, asserting that, as the organized chief executives of more than 160 towns and cities throughout the country, they are a legitimate national leadership group for blacks.
"Our feeling is that black Americans are dying for leadership and we intend to provide it," said A.J. Cooper Jr., mayor of Prichard, Ala., and president of the National Conference of Black Mayors. "We have a right to lead, we've been elected to lead and we shall lead."
There are 161 black mayors in the country - including i11 women - and more than 100 attended the meeting at the Sheraton Park Hotel. At least three of every five black mayors in the country are from the South, usually from rural communities of only a few thousand people.
Thus, the absence this weekend of most of the better-known black mayors - Coleman Young of Detroit, Kenneth Gibson of Newark and Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles, for example - appeared in part to emphasize that aspect.
In an effort to assert leadership, the mayors passed nearly two dozen resolutions on U.S. foreign and domestic policy. These includd appeals for more federal funds to assist development of cooperatives, aid to small towns, for job training and public service programs and for a federal energy stamp program similar to the food stamp program as well as some kind of "Marshall Plan" to revitalize urban and rural areas.
The mayors also urged a strong national effort to increase affirmative action programs and called for the Supreme Court to uphold such programs in its decision the Allan Bakke reverse discrimmination case now pending. On foreign policy, the mayors supported military and economic sanctions against South Africa, and approval of the new Panama Canal treaties.
The organization gave unanimous approval to a resolution introduced by D. C. Mayor Walter E. Washington supporting full voting representation for the District in Congress, instead of the current single nonvoting delegate in the House. The black mayors pledged to work in their states to support such a change, which would require a constitutional amendment.
Most of the resolutions were general, hinting that perhaps because of its youth - the organization began only four years ago as the Southern Conference of Black Mayors and became nationwide only six months ago - the group is still more a symbol than a force.
This week's session appeared to be somewhat of a two-way effort by the organization. It was aimed, on the one hand, at showing the mayors that the organization could give them access to influential persons in the Carter administration, while on the other hand showing the administration that the black mayors are emerging as an influential, if not powerful, force.