The NAACP's challenge now
It is a telling coincidence that the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this week is being held in the general vicinity of the violent outbreaks that shook Miami. The unrest in Miami should serve as a reminder to the nation -- and particularly to those presidential candidates who accept the NAACP's invitation to address its Miami Beach gathering -- that all is not well for the vast majority of American blacks.
The NAACP delegates themselves will need no reminder that, following the early civil rights gains of the 1960s, efforts by blacks to secure a place in the economic and social mainstream slowed in the 1970s. Many blacks remain impoverished -- frustrated that they seem to be drifting, rather than vigorously pushing forward, in their historical journey from slavery to total independence and equality of opportunity.
Racial unrest persists particuarly in the inner city ghettos. The all-too-familiar litany of social and economic problems brought about by decaddes of racial discrimination in the jobs market, in the schools, in housing , and in law enforcement are certain to be the focus of concern at the get-together of the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. According to recent studies, blacks actually lost ground to whites economically in the 1970s, the gap between the median incomes of white and black families having widened. Moreover, one unpublished long-term Labor Department survey recently indicated that unemployment among black youths is even higher than had been thought. For instance, for black young people in school but seeking work, the actual jobless rate was found to be 55.4 percent -- not the official 36.9 percent.
In the wake of the Miami rioting NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks called on President Carter to appoint a national advisory commission to follow up the recommendations of the 1968 Report of the President's National Commission on Civil Disorders; he also asked the Justice Department to respond to mounting police-community tensions growing out of alleged excessive use of police force against blacks. The Justice Department responded by investigating incidents that had touched off miami's disruptions and with stepped-up monitoring of certain big-city police departments. Just prior to the NAACP gathering, the Miami City Commission approved an ordinance providing for the first time civilian oversight of police in Miami and making it easier for citizens to file brutality complaints against law enforcement officers.
The Carter administration also is sending $70 million in federal help, largely for jobs for minority youths, and economic development assistance to rebuild areas damaged in the outbreak. More attention to the plight of inner-city minorities on a national basis, however, will be needed to help blacks struggling to help themselves. The recently enacted amendments to the Fair Housing Act, giving federal officials new enforcement authority, should provide important new assistance in fighting "red-lining," "block-busting," and other discriminatory practices.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, among others, has cautioned blacks against becoming victims of a so-called "dependency syndrome" that makes them look to others, rather than themselves, for solutions. Individual determination and initiative will continue to be the primary need in the 1980s, as in the 1960s and 1970s. Overcoming apathy and getting more blacks to register and vote to exert political incluence also are part of the process. But the NAACP delegates will understandably be listening closely for words of encouragement from this year's presidential and congressional candidates. More than political rhetoric is called for.