Inside the narrow conference room, just off the kitchen downstairs in the hotel just off Times Square, they were calling roll of black "leaders" for the benefit of the press and, most especially, the TV cameras. Clark, Bond, Hatcher, Holman, Hooks, Jackson -- some were better known than others, but none with a name instantly recognized nor a substantial following nationally. Then the moderator introduced Martin Luther King III. "Stand up, Martin," he said, "I don't think they know you." Slim and grave, his angular face framed by long sideburns and set off by a long mustacke King stood up, and just as impassively sat down. There, of course, was a name to conjure with, but it was the person who wasn't present who dominated that New York gathering last week, quite possibly the largest turnout of black spokesmen since the '60s.
Among the many ramifications of the firing of Andrew Young, probably the most significant has been his clear emergence as the one figure around whom all other American blacks can rally. Young was a symbol of black achievement in a way that few, if any, before him experienced. He was more than a civil rights leader; he was the fellow who could walk in the doors of the White House on virtually equal terms, as well as being the spokesman in America for black Africa and the rest of the Third World. Young had made it, and there was a pride in his success that can't be underestimated that's what lay behind the extraordinary coalition of so many diverse -- and often fragmented and jealous -- black groups that met in New York to support him last week.
"What you've got to realize," one of those people told me later, "is that blacks see this as a 'they-finally-got-Andy' sort of thing." They, obviously, meaning whitey in the broadest racial sense -- and, specifically, in this case, they being the Jews.
"I wish it would go away," sighed a representative of a major Jewish organization after the blacks had met and, unanimously, adopted a statement that said, in part, "the resignation of Ambassador Young has seriously intensified tensions in black-Jewish relations."
But he knew it wouldn't, at least not immediately, and the potential existed for demagoguery and further expressions of ugly racial antagonisms. "My own reactor," he said, surely voicing the feelings of many others, "is a feeling of sadness about what's happened, but also anger. It's controlled anger, but we really do feel we have a clean record on civil rights, on human rights, and I must say with kindness that the press didn't help us. The press made it more of an issue. Did you see that headline in The New York Post when this was first making news? 'Fire Him!' it said, and than had a line about Jewish fury. That kind of thing is a perfect example of scapegoating."
The syllogism in this episode is both old and familiar. Major premise: Jews are powerful. Minor premise: Jews exploit blacks. Conclusion: Jews struck down a leading black who threatened the security of the Jewish homeland.
What adds fuel to these feelings are the circumstances of the Young case. He privately meets with the Palestine Liberation Organization delegate to the United Nations and is, reportedly, spied upon by Israeli intelligence agents, whose nation then protests his interference in their affairs. Another American ambassador has had three previous contacts with PLO representatives in Austria, but he's white -- and Jewish -- and he remains while Young goes. Thus, the arguments put forth many times by blacks recently.
It's precisely because of an awareness of those reasons and the emotions they would unleash that important U.S. Jews strongly resent the way the Carter administration handled Young's case. When Vice President Mondale contacted one influential Jewish organization, for instance, he was told that Jews strongly objected to the administration's letting Young resign over the PLO issue. They knew it had the potential to arouse latent anti-Jewish feelings. Mondale, I'm told, replied that for Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Young's actions came as a last straw; he had to go.
The private Jewish assessment has proved to be correct. Young's firing has touched raw nerves and made public what are, in fact, longstanding but often hidden black grievances toward Jews. Jesse Jackson, whose Chicago Operation PUSH organization has attracted much media attention in recent years, emotionally put it this way in New York the other day:
"We marched with out Jewish brothers together in the struggle for decency. But we've pulled apart in our struggle for power. Blacks are the moral support foundation for Jewish interests. Black support has always been steadier for Jews, and more predictable, than white support. Always more predictable. Blacks have never been anti-Semitic. That's white people's mess. And just because we raise an issue of tension and concern, it is not anti-anybody, except we're grown, and we've got something on our minds. We're hurt and we're gonna express it. It took us a long time to get an Andy Young. We can't be white one day and another race the next day. It took us a long time to get here and we don't like it. We do not like it one bit! We don't like it! We don't like it! We don't like it!
What's coming forth now goes beyond the old tensions existing between two American minority groups who have suffered from historical prejudice and discrimination -- and often have had to compete against each other in the jungles of the cities. In the wave of court actions arising out of affirmative action programs designed to benefit blacks, some Jewish organizations have taken positions against black groups. "I think that since 1970 some Jewish organizations -- and who they are changes and shifts, because Jewish organizations are not monoliths -- have seized upon opposition to affirmative action as a special Jewish issue," says Jack Greenberg, director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
To Greenberg, a Jew, those Jewish organizations are "profoundly mistaken." He sees the black reaction to Young's firing as providing, an inevitable -- indeed, understandable -- opportunity for blacks to express frustration and anger. And that, compounded by the Young Israeli-Palestinian equation, in part is what has happened.
The Young affair leaves more than rancor between Jews and blacks. It leaves recriminations by Jews and blacks alike about the handling of the case by the Carter administration. To Jews, it needlessly arouses old prejudices about powerful Jewish influence over national and international affairs. To blacks, many of whom recall the accounts of Carter's severe dressing down of Young for embarrassing his administration on the day the president called for a mass resignation offer from his Cabinet, it fans new doubts about Carter's commitment.
Before their open session with the press in New York, some of the major black figures were talking about how the president had dealt with other controversial departures from his service -- the firing of Bella Abzug, the firing of Joseph Califano, and the firing of Andrew Young, each representative of major political components, women, Italian Catholics, and, now, blacks. "From the pattern," one of them said, "it appears that the Carter administration cannot allow a graceful exit."