Are black leaders out of step with their people?
Black people and their leaders appear to be marching to different drummers. A recent poll suggests that on several social issues, rank-and-file blacks are more conservative than black leaders. And while black leaders distance themselves from controversial figures such as black Muslim leader Louis Farrahkan, many blacks at the grass-roots level appear less ready to condemn them.
These apparent splits may lie behind some blacks' willingness to take a new look at the Republican Party. It also may help explain why growing numbers of blacks appear to be focusing on economic and educational progress to achieve social parity with other Americans.
Most black leaders come from six organizations: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), National Conference of Black Mayors, and Congressional Black Caucus.
But these traditional leaders are being challenged by GOP politicians such as Melvin Bradley, President Reagan's highest-ranking black adviser, and Benjamin Andrews, the top Republican politician in Hartford, Conn. Other activists, such as Roy Innes and poet Nikki Giovanni, and campus intellectuals such as Glenn C. Loury and Marvin Peek, are also among the dissidents.
In addition, political analysts add black clergy, educators, social workers, ``street'' agitators, and fraternal officials to the list of leaders.
These groups can be categorized, says Dr. Peek, director of the black-studies program at the University of Tennessee. ``We have blacks for blacks [Minister Louis Farrakhan], blacks favoring integration [John E. Jacob], blacks advocating rainbow groups [the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson].''
``The day is past when a Booker T. Washington or a Martin Luther King or a Walter White can speak for all blacks,'' says John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League. ``Not even Jesse Jackson can speak for blacks today, although we voted for him a year ago. Blacks are not monolithic. They represent varied views on many issues.''
Evidence of this comes from a recent poll conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The survey's results suggested that a majority of black Americans are more conservative than their leaders on affirmative action, school busing, South Africa, prayer in schools, racial discrimination, black progress, and President Reagan. But the report, ``Who Speaks for Black America,'' noted that by 52 to 48 percent, the majority of the rank-and-file blacks said these leaders represent the majority of black
opinion. The survey, based on a random sample of 600 blacks in the general population and a random sample of black leaders, was reported by center co-director Linda Lichter in the current Public Opinion, published by American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
But the jury is still out on how extensive the split is.
``Our study [a poll conducted last summer] says only 27 percent of blacks oppose affirmative action in hiring compared to 77 percent in the Lichter poll,'' says Linda Williams, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black public-policy research group. ``Her poll says blacks are making progress. Ours says they are not. We'll do a new one later in the fall.''
With respect to the black-Jewish alliance, born during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a recent survey of 16 black members of Congress by the World Jewish Congress indicates that the alliance ``still endures,'' says Elan Steinberg, executive director.
But blacks resent demands that they censure blacks for allegedly making anti-Jewish remarks. ``The pressures by Jewish groups on black public figures like Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., and Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles . . . to denounce Farrakhan is causing alarm among black groups, who view this an intimidation of black elected officials,'' wrote Ethel Payne, a veteran Washington correspondent, in the Oct. 19 issue of The Afro-American, one of the nation's most influential black newspaper s.
``Many blacks are growing weary of the reckless tar brushing by some Jews in tagging them as anti-Semitic whenever they voice criticism of their tactics,'' she added.
Where will all this lead? Some politicians clearly hope it will lead more blacks to the Republican Party.
In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, more blacks favor President Reagan's policies today than ever. His aproval rating amomg blacks rose to 28 percent from a 10-percent low in 1982, during the depths of recession.
Linda DiVall, Republican poll taker of Alexandria, Va., says, ``A 28 percent approval rating is not so terrific.'' The approval rate does not add black votes for Reagan, she said.
But that isn't discouraging black conservatives. Black Republicans and black entrepreneurs sponsored a $300-a-plate dinner in New York City last week honoring former President Nixon and his secretary of commerce, Maurice Stans, for their contribution to the ``growth of black businesses'' in America.
More than 800 people attended. The money raised will support black Republicans seeking office in 1986, although in 1984 only 10 percent of the nation's black voters cast ballots for President Reagan against Democrat Walter F. Mondale.
``Politically I suggest that blacks looking for a place to go for political clout seriously take a very sharp look at the Republican Party,'' said Mel Bradley, the White House adviser.
``As I travel around the nation, black people are responding positively to what the Reagan administration is doing,'' Mr. Bradley says. ``Our program builds minority business. It helps historically black colleges. We provide job training that leads to real jobs. We insist on excellence in education. We continue to enforce civil rights laws.''
The Rev. Maurice Dawkins, former field director for the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign, says, ``The Democrats take us too much for granted.'' He says he is working to get a 25 percent black vote in Virginia for the Republican candidate [Wyatt Durette] for governor. At the same time, he says, blacks plan to vote for a black Democrat, state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder for lieutenant governor. He recalls that Virginia as a state voted for the Rev. Mr. Jackson in the 1984 Democratic presidential primary.
``Traditional leaders must broaden their political perspective to include the Republican Party,'' says Mr. Andrews, a Hartford city councilor and state president of the NAACP. ``We can't go all out for the Democrats and retain any real political leverage.''
A radical-turned-Reagan-backer is Roy Innes, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality. ``I've never favored the welfare mentality that makes black social program slaves,'' Mr. Ennis says. ``I liked Nixon's black capitalism. I like the Reagan program for economic development.'' Ennis says he will run for Congress in Brooklyn in 1986.
Glenn Loury, a Harvard professor, advises, ``Civil rights alone can't solve our economic and educational problems. Affirmative action in some ways slows down black achievement. Our leaders must update their weapons.''