They went to Richmond to shape a Black Agenda for the '80s -- blacks who had led the battles of the '50s and '60s, faces and names that had first come to be known in the '70s. A cross section of black leadership was there: conference coordinator Richard Hatcher, mayor of Gary, Ind.; Illinois Rep. Cardiss Collins; Andrew Young; Vernon Jordan; California Reps. Ron Dellums and Gus Hawkins; Benjamin Hooks; Jesse Jackson; Coretta King; Dick Gregory; Dorothy Height; Maryland Rep. Parren Mitchell; SCLC's Joseph Lowery; New York Secretary of State Basil Patterson; Pennsylvania Rep. William Gray; California state Sen. Willie Brown; Texas Rep. Mickey Leland; California state Rep. Maxine Waters; Michigan Rep. Charles Diggs; Eddie Williams; Del. Walter Fauntroy; host Mayor Henry Marsh; Oakland School Superintendent Ruth Love; labor leaders Bill Pollard, Bill Lucy and Addie Wyatt.
But there were others, too: an impressive array of professional, business, academic and political leadership from virtually every state. Along with the staffs of the Urban Coalition, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Joint Center for Political Studies, they drafted the critical issue papers, ran the workshops, battled -- and ultimately triumphed -- over logistical problems, a sudden snowstorm and a sometimes adverse press.
With the exception of the black press and a fraction of the majority media, much of the coverage focused on the failure of three presidential candidates to appear at the conference; some booing of one of the country's outstanding mayors by those who felt he had broken the rule against partisan political statements; and the grumblings of the usual handful of nay-sayers who float around the fringes of all such gatherings. Nevertheless, the political leaders and organizations representing millions of black people completed the first phase of the job they had come to do.
Some had been worried about the closing plenary session, remembering the explosive discord that ended the 1972 convention in Gary. The 1980 session benefited from the skill, good humor and firmness of its parliamentarian, Republican attorney Samuel Jackson, whose credentials go back to Brown v. Topeka. The delegates made their way through more than five hours of critical economic, social, political and foreign affairs goals. Though disagreements had sometimes been sharp, at the end of the session in the participants joined hands and, led by Dorothy Height and a young volunteer from the audience, sang the black national anthem.
A group of black businessmen and corporate executives pledged the resources necessary to help disseminate, through a network of more than 300 private organizations and black political leadership groups, an agenda for the '80s, which includes:
A closely coordinated campaign to close the jobs and income gaps between blacks and whites.
An aggressive, nationwide voter mobilization program aimed at increasing, by 20 percent each election, the number of black elected officials, and measuring candidates for the presidency, Congress and state and local offices against the priorities set in the agenda.
Opposition to crippling cuts in the federal human needs budget and to the unwarrented, inflationary growth of the military budget.
Support for a national drive to sharply increase black onwership and management of business and economic enterprises, assisted by a new action and information exchange.
A cutoff of all relations with apartheid South Africa and increased aid to other African and Caribbean nations.
Formation of a national Black Youth Coalition to involve young blacks, directly, in increasing job and educational opportunities and in opposing the draft, drug abuse, police brutality and violence within the black community.
Response to increased Klan activity and to reduced public support for civil rights through a new campaign, among black organizations and their allies, in support of affirmative action, black colleges and the ERA --linked to support by the women's movement of the basic agenda.
Perhaps two examples may bear out the conviction of most of the active participants that the coming-together in Richmond was not too late, but "on time." The wire to the president authorized by the final plenary urged postponement of the White House Conference on Africa, announced for this month, because of inadequate involvement of blacks. After a flurry of consultations, the conference was postponed. And, even before its follow-up meeting, the conference secretariat had urged the president and Congress against projected budget cuts that would fall most heavily on minorities and the poor. Alliances of organizations from the Richmond meeting are now working together in support of jobs programs, Head Start and other potential targets.
As intended, the Richmond conference was a beginning. In the difficult days ahead, the real test will be the degree to which those who were there and those who were not can translate the Black Agenda into significant results.