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Blacks in Congress face some tough hurdles on road to '82 reelection

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 9, 1981



Washington

No black will be gerrymandered out of Congress, the National Democratic Committee says, but Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is not so sure.

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"If we are to retain our seats in Congress, if we are to elect more blacks to Congress, we must build a black leadership family that encompasses every national black organization, every nonviolent warrior, and every person willing to reach out in coalition with others to meet the challenge of these difficult times," Mr. Fauntroy told 3,000 people at the recent 11th annual Congressional Black Caucus "Weekend."

But there is some optimism. The Voter Educational Project forecasts as many as 12 new black districts in Congress.

Several congressman -- the black caucus includes 18 members of House, all Democrats, 17 representatives and one nonvoting delegate (Mr. Fauntroy) -- await action that could preserve their seats or transfer them to white successors.

Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri faces the prospect of runoff against a white colleague in a state that will lose one representative. A three-judge federal panel has recommended that the Missouri Legislature hold a special session to work out a compromise.

Representatives from cities losing seats -- New York City, Detroit, and Chicago -- are awaiting legislative redistricting plans.

In the South, blacks are protesting reapportionment plans in Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina on grounds that they could provide roadblocks to the election of blacks to Congress. Southern plans must be approved by the US Justice Department as required in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, currently up for review in Congress.

All 18 blacks in Congress support the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as is -- approved Oct. 5 by the House, but awaiting action from a Republican-dominated Senate.

The black caucus has set these 1982 goals: to elect more blacks to Congress; survive redistricting; encourage black candidates to run for offices; and build black leadership.

Chairman Fauntroy says the caucus plans to assure a strong black voice in Congress by:

* Making extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which expires this year, the No. 1 black priority. This act is credited with increasing the number of black elected officials in the US from a few hundred 11 years ago to more than 5 ,000 today.

* Setting up machinery to develop an "action alert communications network" to reach into 110 congressional districts in which blacks make up at least 15 percent of the voting population.

* Electing at least nine more blacks to Congress from these districts.

* Designing policies to improve the quality of life in the United States as a means of developing coalitions not only with other minority groups, but also with white voters "of good will."

To do this, however, they must achieve favorable reapportionment based on 1980 US Census figures showing that 11 of them represent "high risk" districts, 38 areas that suffered the most severe losses in population during the decade between 1970 and 1980.

Four blacks and a Hispanic top the "endangered list" of 38 -- Robert Garcia of New York City's Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and blacks George W. Crockett Jr. of Detroit; Mr. Clay of St. Louis; Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn (who once sought to run for president on the Democratic ticket); and Louis Stokes of Cleveland (whose brother Carl, was once that city's mayor).

Others in underpopulated districts are Harold Washington, and Cardiss Collins , both from Chicago; Charles B. Rangel of New York; William H. Gray III of Philadelphia; John conyers Jr. of Detroit; Parren J. Mitchell of Baltimore; and Mickey Leland of Houston.

Nevertheless, as many as 12 new blacks, including eight from the South, could be elected to Congress in 1982, projects Geraldine G. Thompsor, executive director of the Voter Educational Project with headquarters in Atlanta. She says new majority black districts could be created in Mississippi Louisina, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, one each; Georgia, one or two, and New York, three.

Black Americans cannot assume "that we have made it, that there is no need to confront, to demand, to be watchful to remember, to act -- because we are protected by the law Mrs. Thompson says.

Eight of the 19 states with a population of more than 500,000 blacks do not have a black representative in Congress. These include seven southern states, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, and one Northern state, New Jersey.