Long-time residents of the "Black Bottom" neighborhood on Detroit's east side like to recall a black politician - Diggs was the name, Charles C. Diggs - who was indicted for graft in public office. He quickly declared his candidacy for a new term, telling the voters the criminal charge was a white man's conspiracy to drive him from his state Senate seat. He was easily reelected.
That was in 1948. This year, in classic case of history repeating itself, the whole scenario is being played out again. Not even the name has changed.
Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr., the son of the man who was indicted (and convicted) 30 years ago, has been working the same old neighborhood in his campaign for reelection to a 13th House term. And Rep. Diggs, who was indicted this year on 35 counts of misuse of federal funds, is working the same old theme.
"The devils are out to get me,"" Diggs recently told the congregation at Oakland Baptist Church. "We have a model for our black political power right here in this district. They want to take it away - black people can't let that happen."
That message should prove as successful for Diggs Jr. as it did for his father. The congressman is heavily favored to win the Democratic primary election tomorrow, and, as the Democratic nominee, he should romp home in November.
For Diggs, a proud and private man, the indictment - alleging that he paid employes of his private businesses with congressional payroll funds and demanded kickbacks from his staff aides - has been a source of personal agony. Politically, however, the criminal case seems to be an asset.
Until the charges were announced in March, there was a feeling among Democrats here in the 13th congressional district that Diggs was vulnerable to a primary challenge.
The 55-year-old congressman had not had a close election since 1954,and it was obvious that he had lost his taste for hard campaigning. His interests in Washington had little direct connection to Detroit, and he seemed almost never to be home.
Diggs took considerable pride in his role as the first black chairman of the House District Committee, and his efforts for D.C. home rule and congressional representation. But that apparently has made just a small impression here. Even now, when black leaders are bending over backwards to say nice things about Diggs, few mention the District Committee. (Diggs is praised, though, for his work on the International Relations subcommittee on Africa.)
By last fall, consequently, some prominent local officeholders were seeking support for a primary race against Diggs.
The day Diggs was indicted, though, the black political establishment began circling the wagons to protect its man. From Mayor Coleman Young down, black men of power here rallied to Diggs' side. By the filing date for the primary only three opponents - two neophytes and one determined antiestablishmentarian - had signed up to challenge the congressman.
In his appearances here, Diggs shows as much scorn for the challengers as for the prosecutors trying to convict him.
"Yes, I have opponents," he told the congregation at Oakland Baptist, his soft voice filled with disgust. "I have three of them. They are like wolves. They taste blood because they know the devil is after me."
Still, the congressman was concerned enough about the challengers to schedule several days of campaigning, something he had not done in years. With enormous reluctance, he even canceled a trip to Africa to come home and seek votes.
The challenge Diggs fears most comes from Ray Rickman, a fast-talking, hard-working 29-year-old black who has bucked the establishment - and lost - in two local elections. Rickman, who says he will raise about $10,000 for the effort, seems to have won some support from young voters, to whom Diggs is ancient history, and some churchmen.
Rickman spends his days walking through the neighborhoods of the districts, where the voters - factory hands, pensioners, and unemployed young people - sit on the front porches shouting at their dogs and children and fanning themselves against the sultry heat.
The glib young candidate comes right to the point. "I'm running against Charlie Diggs," he says crisply. "He's been a do-nothing for 24 years out there. We need a change."
People occasionally challenge that assertion, and for them Rickman has a ready answer: "If you can tell me two substantial things Diggs has done for this neighborhood, I'll go home and shut up." On the day a reporter spent with Rickman, not one voter could do it.
For most people here, though, Diggs' record is beside the point. Rickman saw that last week when he stepped up on Bertha Kennedy's porch to make his pitch.
"You running AGAINST Diggs?" Kennedy shouted, first incredulous and then angry. "Look, boy, this is no time - Congressman Diggs is in trouble. The white folks are trying to get him. We can't show him up now."
Rickman has tried hard to dodge the indictment question, but the voters raise it so often that he sometimes takes it on.
"Look, there's no white conspiracy." he says. "If the whites wanted to get a black congressman, there's 15 of them more uppity than Diggs. This conspiracy stuff is a fraud on the black community. It's a game to get Charlie reeleted."
It would, in fact, be difficult to find hard proof that Diggs' indictment reflects an anti-black conspiracy. Of 12 sitting members of Congress who faced criminal charges in the past four years, all but Diggs were white. Two years ago, former Rep. James F. Hastings (R-N.Y.) was convicted and sent to prison for a kickback scheme quite silmilar to that described in the Diggs indictment. Hastings in white.
But then, the support for Diggs in his hometown this year stems more from the heart than the head. At times it approaches a religious fervor.
When the congressman visited St. Paul's AME Church recently, Pastor J. Solomon BennIII used the Diggs case as the text for his sermon.
"Brother Diggs?" the pastor said. "Brother Diggs, you're in line for some real power in Washington, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir," Diggs replied quietly.
"And Brother Diggs?," Benn went on, "they don't want you to have that power, do they?"
"No, they don't want me to," Diggs answered.
"But we do, Brother Diggs," the pastor said. "We all do. And let the church say 'Amen' to that."
"Amen!" the congregation shouted. "Amen!" shouted Pastor Benn. "Amen," said Rep. Charles C. Diggs