President-elect Ronald Reagan met with the leaders of the nation's major black civil rights organizations for nearly an hour yesterday, assuring them, they said afterward, that his administration would defend the rights of minorities "even at the point of a bayonet."
Reagan's forthright manner and willingness to hear their views appeared to have eased somewhat the black leaders' apprehensions about his presidency. At the same time the president-elect stood his ground on a number of issues, such as opposition to school busing and support for a subminimum wage for teen-agers, that they find objectionable.
"I think we can win some even though we will lose some," said Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP.
Reagan deplored the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other antiblack hate groups and -- harkening back to President Eisenhower's decision to send airborne troops to Little Rock, Ark., to implement school desegregation -- said "he believed that the rights of citizens should be protected even at the point of a bayonet," according to Hooks.
Eighty to 90 percent of blacks voting in the election last month cast ballots for President Carter. While several of the black civil rights organizations professed official neutrality, it was clear in their statements and others behind-the-scene efforts that they supported the reelection of Carter. The mood among blacks in the nation after Reagan was elected ranged from foreboding to what Hooks had previously described as "hysteria."
The black leaders said they were encouraged by Reagan's support in the meeting yesterday for black colleges, his stated willingness to continue meeting with them after the inaugaration and his promise to appoint to his White House staff a high-level aide who would maintain contact with them.
Though they had no immediate reaction to the president-elect's announcement earlier yesterday of his first eight Cabinet appointees -- all white males -- the black leaders said they urged Reagan to appoint a black to a Cabinet position.
"His response was that we should not keep score until the game is over," Gary, Ind., Mayor Richard G. Hatcher said.
Hooks, who has been in similar meetings with every president since John F. Kennedy, said Reagan was "open and forthcoming" about his views, a style reminiscent of the way President Johnson had handled such discussions. The other presidents, Hooks said, had tended more to sit back and listen while White House aides did the talking.
Reagan told them flatly that he thought busing had failed although he was committed to integrated education, a position with which the black leaders disagreed. He told them he was in favor of extending voting rights legislation but thought that it should apply to all 50 states.
He also restated his intention to transfer control over an array of federal social programs from Washington to the states. In listening to him speak on his concept of "state's rights," the leaders seemed to feel that Reagan was using the term in a way that was different from what they associated with the civil rights battles in the South in the 1950s and 1960s.
"When we talk about state's rights, we think of 13 states holding people back," Hooks said. "He may be thinking about it in a different way."
But the leaders said they opposed the concept anyway, especially since its revival by Reagan comes "in harmony" with cries by Sen. Strom Thrumond (R-S.C.) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), both conservative southerners.
Hooks said the leaders were willing to work with Reagan on areas of common agreement but were prepared for battle on others. "We are not sunflowers who have to dwell in the sun," he said.
In addition to Hooks and Hatcher, black leaders at the meeting included Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, president of Operation PUSH; Vernon Jordan, president of the Urban League; Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women and Coretta Scott King.