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Black view of Reagan term: a challenge; Along with criticism of budget cuts is a will to succeed anyway

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 21, 1981


* "Budget cuts signal war on the poor." * "Lyndon B. Johnson and John Kennedy launched a war on poverty. President Reagan seems to be launching a war on the poor."

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* "The rhetorical excesses of the Reagan administration cannot cloak the discernible drift toward a federal policy, domestic and international, that has as its purpose the denial of equality to blacks."

These quotations--a headline, a cartoon caption, and the opening of a front-page editorial--are from the nation's two largest black newspapers, the New York Amsterdam News and the Afro-American.

Many black leaders agree with these ideas. They argue that the black community already is beginning to suffer from the cutbacks of the Reagan economic program. Black youth unemployment has hit new heights, rising to over 50 percent in some cities during the first few months of the Reagan administration. Meanwhile, school lunch subsidies and student loans and aid have been cut--all spelling a negative effect on black hopes for a better education says the National Urban Coalition.

On the other hand, an increasing number of black people--their ranks are still small in comparison to the apprehensive many feel that administration policies offer a positive challenge to minorities.

Some black business people, like Berniece E. Travers, a Richmond, Va., entrepreneur, say the Reagan administration's tight budget policy may prove to be a "mixed blessing in disguise" for blacks. "Black people will have to do for themselves." Mrs. Travers says. "And those who do for themselves will pull other blacks up with them."

Unquestionably, however, major black newspapers and nationally recognized black leaders -Benjamin L. Hooks of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Vernon Jordon of the National Urban League, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and others -have been waging vocal warfare on President Reagan and his budgetary policies ever since he took office nine months ago.

Their attacks indicate a growing wariness by blacks of Mr. Reagan's policies that cut funds for programs they see as vital to black progress. These include cuts in the CETA program (job training); programs to fight poverty, particularly the sacking of the Community Services Agency; programs to support affirmative action, including the possible dilution of equal opportunity, civil rights, and affirmative action efforts; the food stamps program, and programs to help minority business enterprises.

Acting on these critical views, the Black Leadership Forum and National Black Leadership Roundtable, representing more than 150 groups, have organized "Operation Strike Back" to challenge Reagan's policies. "We as blacks feel ourselves under seige, and have no other recourse than to mount a full-scale campaign for our collective and individual survival," they declared in a recent "call to action."

In wide-ranging interviews with black leaders, business people, aand average citizens in Washington and elsewhere, several themes consistently were echoed:

* The reagan administration is insensitive to the needs of minorities.

* Its policies favor the affluent, "taking from the poor and giving to the rich."

* Budget cuts are destroying agencies designed to provide services to the poor, disadvantaged, and underachieving people of the nation.

* Black people did not vote Republican; so they are not included in the rewards of the Reagan victory.

Yet there is diversity among black views of the Reagan administration. Some black business people and professionals, while generally not happy with cutbacks in programs that target aid to the needy, sees an opportunity in the Reagan economic environment -if blacks will seize it.