Delegates to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention yesterday drafted a resolution urging the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the civil rights group, to run for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.
"I was surprised by it the resolution and I have not given any thought to it," said Lowery, who has been cool to the potential candidacy of former SCLC member Jesse L. Jackson.
Sam Tucker, a Lowery aide, said the SCLC leader was "considering" the draft resolution, which was made by an 18-member ad hoc committee of local SCLC chapter members.
Tracy Gray, another Lowery spokesman, said he doubted that the civil rights leader would seek the presidency. Gray noted that in the past, "Rev. Lowery has indicated he hopes to remain a spiritual and religious leader as opposed to involving himself up front as a candidate."
Regardless, the draft resolution underlines a split in the black community over whether a black should seek the Democratic nomination as well as over who it should be.
Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds earlier told a skeptical SCLC audience that President Reagan has a better record on civil rights than his predecessors, and that it "deserves praise from all quarters, not criticism."
Speaking the day before the 20th anniversary March on Washington, Reynolds said that "loose rhetoric" from Reagan's political opponents has raised "unwarranted doubts and unjustified fears" about the administration's commitment to civil rights enforcement.
His remarks were greeted with a combination of disbelief and anger.
Some accused the administration of gutting affirmative action programs, attempting to dismantle the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, initially opposing extension of the Voting Rights Act and showing "insensitivity and arrogance" toward blacks and women.
"It's not simply a matter of perception," Rev. C. T. Vivian, an SCLC board member from Atlanta, shouted at Reynolds. "The central thing to be understood about this administration is you've attempted on every hand to destroy any real attention to enforcement of civil rights. This administration doesn't seem to want to deal with the reality of racism in this country."
"I don't see how every time you file a brief it is on the wrong side of the issue, and then you come to us and say your administration is on our side," said the Rev. Major J. Jones, another SCLC leader from Atlanta.
Reynolds, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, reacted calmly to the criticism. He asserted that the Reagan civil rights record was one of which he was proud.
"It is better than prior administrations," Reynolds told the audience of several hundred at the New Bethel Baptist Church. "It is not as good as I would like it to be and we are working to make it better."
"It is one that shows that we have no tolerance at all for racial discrimination," he said at another point.
He argued that the Reagan administration's record of voting rights enforcement "is unprecedented--unparalled by any previous administration." He said the administration opposes the use of racial and sexual quotas in affirmative action cases because they haven't worked.
"The majority of black Americans in this country have not been touched by affirmative action," he said.
Reynolds was the only major administration figure to appear before the SCLC, a civil rights group founded by the late Martin Luther King Jr. The convention, which brought together many of the civil rights leaders of the 1960s, was scheduled to end the evening before today's demonstration commemorating King's March on Washington in 1963.
After Reynolds finished, the SCLC passed a resolution unanimously urging Reagan to appoint a special envoy "for the purpose of establishing friendly relations with the black community."
Lowery, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Atlanta, is a longtime civil rights leader. One of the founders of the SCLC, he succeeded the Rev. Ralph Abernathy as president of the organization in 1977.