The nation's black leaders ended a three-day conference here yesterday during which the absence of presidental candidates invited to a forum underscored a deepening fear and resentment that the media, the Congress and the candidates are ignoring important issues in the black community.
At one conference session, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, leader of Operation PUSH, drew thunderous applause when he characterized the presidental campaign as a "three-ring circus" and an "exercise in entertainment and a diversion from the real issues that affect the lives of Americans, especially black Americans."
At another session, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, who stressed the need for revitalization of cities, was booed when he told the conference he was supporting President Carter's re-election.
Mayor Richard Hatcher, one of the conference convenors,criticized the media for focusing on the canceled presidental forum and diverting attention from what he said were critical areas affecting black people.
"This conference was never intended to revolve around the presidental forum," Hatcher said, "nor does its cancellation affect the outcome of this conference in any way.
"We came here to write a black agenda.
"We came here to bring blacks of all political persuasions together in unity, and we have achieved that unity."
The candidates who declined to appear at a presidental forum scheduled for yesterday were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.) and California Gov. Jerry Brown.
The black leaders, who represented about 300 organizations that touch every area in the black community, discussed issues and strategies with a sense of urgency about combating eroding civil rights gains and afirmative action policies and U.S. budget cuts that affect national programs that give aid to the poor.
Benjamin Hooks, head of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, told the conference that "the economic decline of the late '70s has all but wiped out the steady economic progress that blacks made in the 1960s.
"In his dissent in the Bakke decision [Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall reminded this nation that the black male who completes four years of college can expect a median annual income of merely $110 more than a white male who has only a high school diploma," Hooks said.
Although black people represent close to 12 percent of the U.S population, we are less than 3 percent of the lawyers and judges, 2 percent of the physicians, 2.3 percent of the dentists, 1.1 percent of the engineers, and 2.5 percent of the college and university professors. They have heard our voice, yet they ignore our counsel."
The black leaders devised an agenda for the 1980s that sets forth areas of concern in affirmative action, housing, unemployment, voter registration, and health care, some of them with specific timetables.
Among the major items of the agenda were opposition to registration and reinstitution of the draft, support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and support of the District of Columbia voting rights amendment.
The agenda also called for economic and political sanctions against South Africa and called for a "concerted action to bring about a just and lasting comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict including the resolution of the Palestinian homeland issue."
The agenda said that federal grant and procurement policies should be restructured to place greater emphasis on direct funding at black community-based organizations, setting aside a minimum of 15 percent of federal procurement and development funds for black institutions and greater emphasis on specific targeting at development programs on the most distressed communities.
Conferees called for a universal income maintenance program including a guaranteed minimum within 25 percent of a decent standard living as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Black leaders also committed themselves to mobilize forces to implement the black agenda.
Hatcher said that the black agenda was extremely important at a time when the federal government is seeking to slash the budget by $20 billion.
"At this very moment, federal agency staffs are meeting to discuss where those cuts are coming," Hatcher said. "Bases on experience, we can expect that those cuts will come out of social and economic programs critical to black people."
The black leaders said they would hold political candidates accountable for their responses to black issues.
The conference drew many congressional black caucus leaders, including D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, Rep. Cardiss Collins, (D-Ill.), Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), Vernon Jordan, head of the National Urban League, M. Carl Holman, head of the national Urban Coalition and Dorothy Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women. It also drew black labor leaders including William Lucy of the AFL-CIO, mayors, including D.C Mayor Marion Barry, and many black civic and professional leaders.
In the end, many who said that although they were divided in some of the approaches to solving the problems of black people, they were leaving the conference united about the priorities.
This agenda conference, an offshot from black political conferences in Gary, Ind., in 1972, in Little Rock, Ark., in 1974 and in Charlotte, N.C., in 1976, brought leaders together to share information, reaffirm commitments to social and economic progress and to develop a network of communication.
The Rev. Jackson said that the Gary conference started a tradition of sharing information and mobilizing numbers of blacks. "We are young in the political game," he said. "We just got the right to vote 15 years ago."
Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) said that what was missing at the other national conference meetings was a nationwide black network of leaders of every major organization which he said was the nucleus for political action.
In workshop sessions, delegates, many of whom had not participated in a black issues conference before, sought answers to problems in their own communities and asked what they could do to support black concern.
Young blacks from earlier conferences provided new blood for the 1960s civil rights movement, exploring alternative political parties and becoming active in the two-party system, learning how government operates at all levels. This year's conference, which included men and women new to black leadership conferences, continued the education process, conference leaders said.
The point was reinforced by Rep. ronald Dellums (D-Calif.,) who told the conference: "As we enter the 1980s, we must take a quantum leap forward. If we are citizens of this country, we must expect to be involved in all areas of the decision making process, and not let a handful of white males over 50 decide for us. We are here."
The strain of dual identity -- of being American and also being black -- was evident here from the beginning of the conference. In a large meeting room decorated with red, white and blue streamers, a local high school chorus sang the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Later another group led in the singing of the black national anthem.
While the purpose at the onset was devising a black agenda, many conferees could not escape the reality of the current presidental political campaign in which many of them are already involved. All major Democratic Party candidates in this largely Democratic gathering were represented by delegates who hosted hospitality suites, and passed out buttons and literature. d
As Fauntroy described the politicking: "Louis Martin (a Carter special assistant) and other Carter supporters were here pushing for Carter, I was here pushing for Kennedy, but all along I think the people here were serious about doing what they set out to do."
One workshop participant, John Luster, an official with the United Auto Workers, said, "So many times, these conferences deal with rhetoric, but this was clearly specific in that we were able to discuss ways to mobilize and get people involved in our community. I hope that what will come out of this is a better understanding of what our problems are."