"He was not my candidate originally, but he is mine now," said Val Washington of Ronald Reagan, the GOP candidate for president. An old-line black Republican dating back to the party's 1944 campaign to elect Wendell Willkie over President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Washington was a strong supporter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Washington says he has never before supported a conservative Republican. His grandfather, a former slave, voted Republican, he recalls, and his father supported "Teddy Roosevelt until he switched to a third party" back in 1912.
Ronald Reagan, however, "is the dream conservative candidate" that black Republicans see as the man who can lure black people back into the GOP fold. Says Washington:
"I don't know him, but blacks from California have told me he had a good record as governor although they did not vote for him the first time he ran. It may all depend on what he says to the National Urban League next week."
Criticized harshly for not appearing at the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People earlier this month, Mr. Reagan accepted an invitation to address the National Urban League at its 70th anniversary national conference scheduled Aug. 3-6 in New York City.He denies charges that he has written off the black vote.
Reagan will speak Tuesday night to the Urban League, the nation's most influential black social service organization.
The GOP candidate's most ardent black support comes from two backers on opposite sides of the United States -- Dr. Gloria E. A. Toote, who seconded Reagan's nomination for president at the 1976 Republican National Convention, held two federal posts in the Nixon-Ford regime, and lives in the Harlem house where she was born in New York City; and Dr. Henry Lucas, san Francisco dentist who was one of a number of blacks appointed to government posts by Reagan in California.
They acclaim his record as governor of California, saying he appointed more blacks to office than any previous governor. "I am aware of the Reagan image among blacks," Dr. Lucas said, "but I say give him a chance. Our campaign job is to let people meet the real Reagan."
Ronald Reagan will not come close to getting a majority of black votes, says Dr. Toote, but he will do far better than the 7 percent Gerald Ford garnered in 1976. A developer and a lawyer, Dr. Toote says she agrees with a "Tony Brown's Journal" (syndicated black television program) poll that says 28 percent of the nation's blacks will vote Republican in November.
Not so optimistic, but still expecting a big gain in black voters, is Arthur Fletcher, who actively campaigned for George Bush, now Reagan's running mate, in the primaries. Also saying that Mr. Reagan's Urban League appearance could "make or break" him with black voters, Mr. Fletcher asks, "How sincere are the Reagan people abouth the black vote?"
He and other black Republican leaders expect to meet with the Reagan-Bush campaign team in August. The basic party goal, he says, is to double the Ford 1976 vote, with a minimum of 12 percent of the black vote.
"My view is that 30 percent of the black vote will desert the Democratic fold ," Mr. Fletcher explained. 'These dissidents will do one of three things -- vote for Reagan, cast a sympathy Anderson ballot, or stay home. They will not vote for President Carter."
In post-Civil War years Republicans elected the first blacks to Congress and to state and local offices in the South. The first black congressman from the North was Republican Oscar DePriest of Chicago, elected in 1928. And the only black Us senator in the 20th century, Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, was a Republican. Today only one black Republican is in Congress: Melvin H. Evans, nonvoting delegate from the Virgin Islands.
In addition to key supporters of Reagan and Bush, the GOP will rely on the following to rally support from American blacks:
* The National Black Republican Council, organized in 1973 and revitalized four years later with James E. Cummings Jr. of Indianapolis, Ind., as chairman.
"We seek to raise the participation of blacks in the party," Mr. Cummings says. The council has organized blacks state by state through "Third Force," a special seminar and leadership program headed by Jack E. Robinson of Boston. The council also has produced a "news digest."
* The Republican National Committee. Angela D. Wright is the committee staff member working with black activities. She has produced a "Directory of Black Republicans," including presidential appointees and party advisers, gubernatorial appointees and staff aides, Black Republican Congressional Staff Association, and black Republican elected officials.
* A black outreach committee yet to be selected.Dr. Toote worked in the Reagan primary campaign with such a group; it produced "Fact Sheet," a one-edition news letter that "ran out of money."
* The Wright-McNeil Associates, consultants. Phyllis Berry says the firm will help blacks work out a Reagan strategy that supports a platform of revitalizing the nation's cities, putting people back to work, reducing inflation, and promoting black business enterprise.