US blacks seek practical signs that President is sensitive to their wants
How clearly defined is President Reagan's policy toward the nation's black citizens and their problems? The answer may come when Mr. Reagan mounts the rostrum to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at its 72nd national convention in Denver.
Scheduled to speak June 30, the President is likely to face a skeptical, if not hostile, audience. During his 1980 campaign, he was scolded by the NAACP leadership for "ignoring" an invitation to speak before the organization's convention in Miami Beach. More currently, Congress is clashing over the President's truncated 1982 budget. Critics charge that it pulls the rug from under programs that have helped black Americans gain a more equal footing with their white counterparts in US society.
Mr. Reagan was briefed by the NAACP's two top officials, board chairwoman Margaret Bush Wilson and executive director Benjamin L. Hooks, at the White House June 23.
Noting that Reagan's economic program appears to be "cutting out those things we need until we get to the place where we ought to be," Mr. Hooks advised the President to keep his communication lines open with black people.
"He assured us that ultimately our goals are his goals," the NAACP leader says. "However, if his economic program has not changed from what he has presented to Congress, I'm sure NAACP delegates will be skeptical."
Though seeing in Reagan a sensitivity to black people, Mrs. Wilson adds, "I think he needs to have that sensitivity deepened."
Concern over the depth of the President's sensitivities is growing because of a number of minority-related issues that he will face during his first term, including:
* Proposed changes to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is perhaps the preeminent issue among civil rights activists. When President Reagan requested a review of the act, which expires in August 1982, he explained that his administration is committed to the spirit of that law. But there remain questions on whether the act "continues to be the most appropriate means of guaranteeing" blacks' franchise.
Civil rights advocates argue that proposed changes would seriously compromise voting right safeguards. Those who wish to change the act, including Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have advocated approaches ranging from making it nationwide -- blacks call this dilution -- to letting it expire.
* Racial discrimination. The NAACP strongly supports strengthening current regulations. Reagan's federalism calls for a review of the Federal Contract Compliance Policy, which deals with hiring practices for federally funded projects, and rules implementing Executive Order 12250 (coordination of all federal antidiscrimination laws).
* Education. Strengthen black colleges, and bolster public school systems and school desegregation, says the NAACP. It opposes tax credits or voucher payments, both favored by Reagan. Reagan has pledged help for black colleges. But his supporters also favor restricting Supreme Court jurisdiction and US Justice Department participation school desegregation cases.
* Economic aid. Ideally the NAACP wants a "Marshall Plan" to help depressed inner- city areas, and special aid to minority firms -- such as nonbid contract awards to minority vendors -- with a minimum of state or local control. Reagan favors enterprise zones for cities, block grants to states, some form of aid to minority firms with less emphasis on set- asides.
* Unemployment. Affirmative action strictly enforced, even in reduction in force layoffs, is a must for the NAACP. It also favors hiring goals, training programs such those provided under the Comprehensive Education and Training Act, and special training youth. The organization opposes any attempt to reduce the minimum wage, something the administration is considering to make hiring young people more attractive to employers. Reagan opposes job "quotas" and has targeted CETA for substantial budget cuts.