In their continuing attempt to define a political and economic strategy and to cope with a myriad of social concerns, blacks of many persuasions converged here last week. When they went home, two major problems remained.
Poor and working-class blacks were not much in evidence at the week of separate private meetings, workshops, parties and dinners, where the cost of a ticket ranged to $150. And, when it ended, there were still too many voices speaking.
Eddie Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political Studies, a liberal-oriented black research organization here, summed it up by saying:
"My great concern is getting everybody together in the same room. How do we get some of these ideas tested and stop speaking past one another?"
Those here included congressional Democrats, Republican rank and file, ministers and liberal and conservative researchers and academicians groping to design a strategy for blacks even as they argued about whether government had helped or hurt blacks in the last two decades.
What was illuminating about this round robin of events at widely spaced hotels was the degree to which the groups kept to themselves, seldom meeting together, and their divergence on what most seemed to agree are serious problems of inadequate central city schools, high unemployment, crime and declining numbers of small businesses.
In addition to the Congressional Black Caucus and National Black Republican Council, meeting here included Williams' group, the administration-inspired New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, black ministers in the National Council of Churches and various smaller business and professional groups.
Between Black Caucus workshops Friday, Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.) said, "The difference between us and the black Republicans . . . is that the only thing they're interested in is making money. The goal to me is how black people can live in a society where they have equity and where they've realized justice in every respect."
Clarence Pendleton, president of the black conservatives' nearly 2-year-old but still embryonic New Coalition, disagreed with Leland that racism still presents major obstacles to blacks.
"We must stop blaming every failure, every closed door, to racism," Pendleton told a dinner the coalition cosponsored with the Heritage Foundation last Sunday. "Black America must be conceived primarily as producers and not first as consumers."
Black conservatives seem to feel that if government regulation is loosened and free market forces are unrestrained, the lot of the average black worker will improve. Black liberals still look to the government for financial aid and civil rights protection. The debate here ranges over issues such as President Reagan's budget cuts, affirmative action, government regulation and busing.
For example, organized labor has been a traditional ally of black liberal groups, with union leaders providing contributions to civil rights organizations and lobbying for civil rights causes on Capitol Hill. Conservatives argue that civil rights leaders have ignored the fact that labor has lobbied for other laws that effectively lower the number of blacks in union trades and crafts.
The conservatives have made few inroads among blacks but Republican and Democratic politicians feel that could change, especially among the young black middle class, which comprises about one-third of all blacks. It has grown tenfold over the last decade even as another third of blacks remained locked in poverty.
Black Republicans here were cheered that a few of the young lawyers, junior corporate executives and government professionals attended the dinner and heard Reagan. That differed distinctly from previous such GOP affairs attended by many who came "on canes," as one black administration official recalled.
Reagan's promise in a speech at the Council dinner to increase the proportion of government procurement contracts awarded to black-owned businesses was clearly popular with his listeners but few, other than the most ardent academic conservatives, concurred with his assertion that President Johnson's Great Society programs had not only failed but created obstacles to black advancement.
Middle- and working-class blacks have always had a strong conservative bent on many social issues, race being the significant exception. Republicans never capitalized on that. And politically active younger blacks are especially interested in the GOP emphasis on private enterprise.
Democrats and civil rights groups have attempted to make a gesture toward such an emphasis. The Black Caucus dinner honored the nation's oldest black-owned business, the 100-year-old E.E. Ward Transfer and Storage Co. of Columbus, Ohio. The Rev. Jesse Jackson's threat to lead boycott campaigns against beer and soft drink companies with no black distributorships and subcontractors is another example.
"If I had the power to make change, I would change the minds of young blacks to gear them toward business and economics," said Ronald Hobson, 22, a junior business major at Howard University who has been active in a Black Caucus youth group organized by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.).
"I want black people to be more confident in each other because I see too often we don't trust each other. First of all, we have to win the battle among ourselves," Hobson said.
There were scattered hints of political ecumenicism among the black young, and Fauntroy's Caucus youth group gave an award to Armstrong Williams, a young black Reagan appointee from South Carolina who got his patronage job as a legislative analyst in the Agriculture Department through his senator, Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
Caucus members and assistants expressed consternation privately about the award, remembering Thurmond's fiery segregationist past. But the college students were impressed by Williams and had little memory of the years when the wily Thurmond was one of the leading southern resisters to integration.
At the GOP dinner two nights earlier, Reagan emphasized that the administration does not intend to write off black voters, although White House aides had said that day they did not seriously believe the GOP will make any substantial inroad soon.
"At best, blacks are in a state of flux, but they're voting Democratic because they don't see alternatives. Blacks are almost pathologically fearful of Reagan," Rep. Harold Washington, a Democrat from Chicago's South Side and a Caucus member, told a reporter Friday night.
Despite all of the week's hubbub and good intentions, no distinct solutions emerged.
Amid the arguments and even the revelry was a dispirited fatalistic air, and it burst into an emotional display at the Caucus prayer breakfast Saturday morning.
Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young reminded the gathering of other, bleaker periods in American black history. Then he mentioned something he said his grandmother always told him, a saying familiar to most of his audience:
"The Lord made a way out of no way."