Black votes count, and four men who seek to become president of the United States will actively seek their ballots. Two Democrats -- President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy -- and the independent candidate, Rep. John B. Anderson, argued their cases last week before the 71st convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Miami Beach.
Ronald Reagan did not show up, but he sent an apology, explaining that he has not written off the black vote. To verify this contention, Mr. Reagan announced that he has accepted an invitation to address another major civil rights organization, the National Urban League, at its convention Aug. 3-6 in New York.
These actions contrast with the apparent reluctance of presidential hopefuls to appear in black communities or before black audiences during the primary season. This reluctance was climaxed when no candidate appeared last winter at a meeting of black leaders in Richmond, Va., to develop a "black agenda for the 1980s."
Participants in the NAACP convention enthusiastically showed their interest in the presidential sweepstakes by flocking to the programs featuring the various candidates.
But many of the NAACP members at the convention were seething over what they considered to be an insensitive attitude toward their interests shown by presidential hopefuls during the primary campaign.
If the thousands of delegates had voted after the convention, President Carter likely would have received the bulk of their votes. Mr. Carter did not rouse his audience. But "He offers us more than Reagan," some delegates said.
Senator Kennedy, for his part, would have their loud applause. But for the senator, cheers do not convert into votes. The general feeling seemed to be: "Senator Kennedy sounds good, but he won't even get nominated. I'll take Carter."
It was Representative Anderson who inspired their sentiments and hopes. A typical response: "He sounds best of all, but I can't waste a vote on him." Or, "I like what he says. I might give him my protest vote."
As many as 15 percent would have voted for Mr. Reagan as a practical matter. In the words of one: "He looks like the big winner, and we have to be on the victorious side."
Some consider him "a smart politician" exploiting every possible source of votes. Said others: "Reagan may do more than we expect." And some blacks, in fact, already are Republicans.
Still other delegates expressed an attitude their leaders do not like to hear: that many black voters may stay home on Election Day.The NAACP is mounting a massive national register-and-vote campaign.
The convention established two basic points:
* Political power through registration of high-school graduates and the "apathetic middle class" is the key of achieving human rights goals.
* Black people are concerned -- even alarmed -- by what they think is a creeping erosion of their civil rights, declaring the May riots in Liberty City, home of 81,000 blacks here in Miami, can be repeated in other cities unless police abuse, unemployment among both black adults and youths, and other ills, such as inadequate housing, are corrected.
When preconvention activities began June 28, cries rang out from the streets of Liberty City. Residents, including local NAACP officials, branded the nation's oldest and largest black civil rights group as betraying the community by bringing 18,000 people and millions of dollars to a city where few blacks either live or work. Critics demanded that the NAACP move part of its program over to Miami proper and take a firsthand look at riot devastation.
The NAACP did not sponsor any activity in Miami, but several busload of delegates toured Liberty City at $6 a head to see for themselves what had happened.
In addition, the convention confirmed a $500,000 special budget to set up a special NAACP riot recovery operation in Liberty City.
The convention also passed a resolution supporting amnesty of pardon for persons charged with curfew violations during the riots in the course of "routine, normal, and legitimate activites." All NAACP members and branches were asked to donate funds to a Miami emergency relief fund, and Mr. Hooks was instructed to appoint a special commission to monitor the criminal justice system of the Miami area and to study the restoration of the death penalty in Florida.
The convention also passed a resolution seeking better conditions for Haitian refugees. The resolution asked Congress to enact permanent legislation to designate the Haitians as political refugees and the President to grant Haitians already in this country political asylum.
Another resolution asked that affirmative action become a policy of both the public and private sector, especially when public funds are spent.
Otherwise, the convention passed resolutions such traditional civil-rights issues equal education, housing, and employment.