The Black Caucus of the Democratic National Committee, which feuded bitterly with DNC Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. five months ago, has warily endorsed Kirk's vision of a party less overtly tied to "special interests" yet true to its principles of the last half century.
Several key caucus members used last week's meetings here to distance themselves from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who in February condemned Kirk's leadership as "a scheme to prove its manhood to whites by showing its capacity to be unkind to blacks."
Mollified by concessions from Kirk on some differences and promises to resolve others, the blacks occasionally complained but generally joined in ratifying his appointments to top party posts and his recommendation to hold no midterm convention in 1986.
"All of us have faced reality," said caucus member Lottie Shackleford, vice chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party. "If we are truly going to be a party of all the people, there are some concessions that we are going to have to make."
But many caucus members -- including several who did not support Jackson in the presidential primaries -- said they remained uneasy about the party's new thrust.
"Everybody's looking for direction and, even among the black caucus, some are interested in the party line, others are just apprehensive about where the party's going, period," said DNC member Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi. "I'm willing to discuss, to argue and to compromise. But I'm not willing to give up everything just to say I'm a Democrat."
Several events, many of them tied to Jackson's 1984 bid for the party's presidential nomination, put Kirk at odds with many of the 66 blacks who make up nearly 18 percent of the DNC's 377 members.
One was the black caucus' nomination of Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, cochairman of Jackson's campaign, for another term as one of three party vice chairmen. Kirk broke with tradition and declined to ratify that choice.
The full DNC elected Illinois Comptroller Roland W. Burris for the post, drawing criticism from some blacks who said that Burris was an "Uncle Tom" and that Kirk had undermined the caucus system.
Then in May, at Kirk's behest, the DNC executive committee withdrew official recognition of seven special caucuses, including that for blacks, but gave the heads of three caucuses -- black, Hispanic and women's -- seats on the executive committee.
Late this month, Kirk chose a chairman for the "Fairness Commission," a 51-member panel set up to review the party's delegate selection rules in response to complaints by Jackson. Kirk spurned Jackson's choice for one of his own strong supporters: former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Donald L. Fowler, who is white.
Finally, last week Kirk chose four new executive committee members. None was black, an omission that black caucus vice chairman Al Edwards of Texas termed "asinine."
Several factors prevented any of these issues from spilling into a heated battle last week, according to party members and officials.
One was Kirk's willingness to meet with blacks about their concerns and, in at least one instance, to compromise. DNC member Leon Lynch of Pennylvania said Kirk withdrew plans to ask the executive committee to to stop holding seats for the heads of the black, Hispanic and women's caucuses.
Some of the early critics, moreover, were up for reelection to the DNC or, observers said, eyeing top posts in the party structure.
In addition, there was Jackson's absence and the passing of still another five months since the end of his emotional campaign, which had won more than 80 percent of the black votes in the primaries.
At one black caucus meeting, New Orleans Mayor Ernest N. (Dutch) Morial, a strong Jackson supporter in the primary, urged the caucus not to wage Jackson's battles as its own.
"It's time for Jesse to get a political base of his own . . . . It's time for Jesse to get elected," Morial said. "Jesse cannot use the Democratic Black Caucus as an adjunct of the Rainbow Coalition." The remark met with moderate applause.
The statistics also argued slightly in Kirk's favor. Since he became chairman, the number of blacks on the DNC has risen from 64 to 66. He chose nine blacks as at-large members of the DNC, an increase of one. Beside him on the stage was the party's first black national treasurer, Sharon Pratt Dixon of the District of Columbia.
The strongest anti-Kirk salvo came from a non-DNC member who unsuccessfully sought membership, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Barry criticized the absence of black mayors in some committee positions and hinted that blacks could abandon the party they have supported since the New Deal.
Several caucus members said that the current honeymoon with Kirk could last through next year's elections, when the party is looking to blacks to help it regain control of the Senate.
"Blacks in the DNC are sort of in a puzzle," Edwards said. "It's hard to forgive this DNC administration for ignoring our desires, and yet we're caught in a vise because we are Democrats and we've got to help . . . . I've got to work for the Democrats, but I don't really feel it deep down inside."