• U.S.

Remedies for Black Problems

4 minute read
Ed Magnuson

The November election results confirmed what has long been one of the Administration’s greatest weaknesses: it has no substantial following among black Americans. Less than 10% of blacks cast votes for Ronald Reagan. Last week the Administration made an effort, of sorts, to bridge that breach on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The President sat in for 25 minutes of an hourlong White House meeting between his Cabinet officials and a group of blacks, most of them conservative, who called themselves the Council for a Black Economic Agenda. They told Reagan what he wanted to hear: impoverished blacks, and whites as well, should rely less on Government and more on their own efforts to lift themselves out of their economic plight.

The little-known new group had asked for the White House meeting. Efforts by more traditional black organizations to talk seriously with the President have been rebuffed for the past three years. The council’s spokesman, Robert Woodson, is president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which coordinates the work of community-based self-help groups. Instead of quarreling with Administration plans to cut the budgets of programs aimed at helping the poor, the council suggested reforms, including tax incentives for development of poor neighborhoods and a shift from government- supervised foster-care programs for abandoned children to those of black churches and civic groups. “We didn’t ask for special programs for blacks,” said Woodson. “That’s patronizing.” As for the absence of N.A.A.C.P. and National Urban League leaders from the meeting, Woodson contended, “Other groups say that all of our problems started with Ronald Reagan. They just recite the same old litany of despair.”

Reagan seemed to agree. In an interview with USA Today, he said some black leaders don’t talk about the positive things his Administration has done for blacks. Why? “Maybe some of those leaders are protecting some rather good positions that they have,” he said, “and they can protect them better if they can keep their constituency aggrieved and believing that they have a legitimate complaint.”

One of the black organizations that was not represented at the White House meeting, the National Urban League, issued a report last week on “The State of Black America 1985,” which noted that blacks have been relying less on Government and more on their own efforts to cut down on crime and improve education. The league found reasons for “hope and encouragement” in its annual study, citing Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy and new efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. The report also found some signs of increasing stability in black households. Still, the report called Reagan’s record on black problems “deplorable.” The league’s president, John E. Jacob, singled out Reagan’s “continuing attacks against affirmative action” and “the unwarranted entry of the Justice Department into civil rights cases in an effort to turn back the clock.” Jacob contended that blacks, whose gains peaked in the 1970s, “have been sliding back” ever since. Example: black unemployment nationally remained at 16%, more than double that of whites. Wrote Jacob: “That Black America is not worse off today than it is, is more of a testament to its traditional ability to survive than to anything else.”

Even grimmer than the Urban League’s report was a study of changes in south-central Los Angeles in the two decades since the Watts riots of 1965. The racial riots killed 34 people, injured more than 1,000 and caused $40 million in property damage. Despite promises of governmental action in the area since then, unemployment there among black teen-agers is 50%. The report, written by the city and county human-relations commissions, calls the rate of drug abuse “alarming,” cites continuing tension between the community and police, says the schools remain racially isolated, and notes that fully 30% of the residents still live in crime-infested public housing projects. Concludes the report: “We should not have to wait for a second Los Angeles riot to erupt to bring these problems to serious public attention.”

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