"Black America Christmas Mood: Gloom, Suspicion and Pessimism." That was the headline on a story reporting the views of various black spokesmen whose year-end consensus was that 1977 had been a disappointing period for racial progress, and that the prospects for 1978 weren't much better.
That is a narrow view of the situation for the racial developments of the last year, on balance, have been notably constructive, with many welcome breakthroughs - political, cultural and social.
It is not hard, however, to understand why several recent symposiums on the status of blacks were so dour, for the attention of the participants was focused mostly on indefensibly high unemployment among blacks in general.
The panelist were rightly appalled at the prospect of a multitude of black youngsters moving into adulthood without ever having had any contact with the world of work. The critics also felt, quite understandably, that President Carter had not done much to relieve the problem in his first year in office.
Nonetheless, it should be kept in mind that the President has now endorsed the Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill and is committed to zeroing in on the special problems of joblessness for minority youths.
Another complaint is that the President has not appointed enough blacks to key positions in his administration. It is true that he has not fulfilled all of the expectations he aroused, but under him we have two Cabinet-level black appointees, Patricia Harris, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Other key black appointments include Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, U.S. Treasurer Azie Morton, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.
Wade McCree now holds the distinguished post of Solicitor General, and Drew Day 111, as Assistant Attorney General, heads up the Civil Division in the Justice Department. Carter has also appointed a number of black U.S. attorneys around the country, and promoted Judge Leon Higginbotham to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
There have been a record number of black appointments in the upper levels of the State Department; John Reinhardt, director of the USIA; Terence Todman, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs; Barbara Watson, administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular affairs. Half a dozen or more blacks have become ambassadors.
The best augury for racial progress, however, is the trend of public opinion. In 1977, blacks had another top year at the polls. Nearly all black incumbent mayors were reelected, and in New Orleans and Oakland, black mayoralty candidates won for the first time. Gains were also made in state legislatures.
In 1976-77, the number of blacks in elective office jumped from 3,979 to 4,311, according to the Joint Center for Political Studies. Only two states now have no black elected officials. The greatest gains have been in the 11 states of the Old South, where 2,129 blacks now hold elected office.
Mississippi leads all other states, with 295 blacks in elected office, a leap of 85 in one year. When Dick Gregory, the black comedian, went to Mississippi during the civil-rights turmoil of the 1950s, he was put in jail. When he returned last year, the governor made him an honorary colonel.
Richmond, Va., was also once a stronghold of white supremacy, but blacks this year won control of the city council and elected Henry Marsh 111 as the community's first black mayor.
In Washington, Burtell Jefferson has just been appointed the city's first black police chief. Last month William B. Bryant became the chief judge of the U.S. District Court, the first black to hold that post. And last month Lisle Carter Jr., a black born in New York City, became the first president of the University of the District of Columbia.
Washington Episcopalians recently installed a revered black, the Rt. Rev. John Walker, 50, as their bishop, and in Mississippi Bishop Joseph Howze became the first black since the 19th century to head a Roman Catholic diocese. Also, Thelma Adair, a college professor, was elected moderator of the United Prebysterian Church in the United States, the first black woman to hold the office.
Even the Daughters of the American Revolution took in their first black member in December, while many of the large labor unions have elected blacks as vice presidents.
Perhaps the most significant straw in the wind is the way resistance to school busing receded last year. On Dec. 14, for instance, Seattle became the first major American city to desegregate the schools without a court order.
In Boston, the voters turned out three officials who had built their careers on opposition to "forced busing." On New Year's Day, a black judge swore into office John O'Bryant, the first black ever elected to the Boston School Committee. What a change from the days when the flamboyant Louise Day Hicks was leading Boston's violent antibusing crusade.
As for sports and art and entertainment, blacks are already so acclaimed that it is hard to see how they could do better, but they did. Who can forget the dazzling performance of Alex Haley, Reggie Jackson and Earl Campbell, the 1977 Heisman trophy winner?