''A black can be a serious candidate for president in 1984,'' says Maynard H. Jackson, former mayor of Atlanta, now a lawyer in private practice. A black presidential candidate, says Mr. Jackson, can educate and motivate voters by running on a platform that speaks to the plight of cities - advocating job-training programs, public-private partnership, better housing, adequate health care, improved public education, and fair treatment by the courts.
Amid debate over whether a black candidate could make a respectable run for the presidency, groups of national, state, and local black leaders are holding meetings in 30 states to consider a black agenda for the '84 election.
The operation, dubbed ''The Proposition,'' will climax later this month in a national gathering to reach a consensus on whether to field a candidate. A number of prominent black leaders met privately in Chicago last weekend in a prelude to the national meeting.
M. Carl Holman, president of the National Urban Coalition in Washington, D.C. , and other analysts see three basic priorities emerging from this series of meetings:
* Elect more blacks to office at all levels of government. The immediate goal: support the mayoral campaigns of W. Wilson Goode in Philadelphia (primary May 17), and Melvin H. King in Boston (primary in September).
* Develop a black agenda to guide both major parties, spotlighting a consensus of issues to be espoused at both 1984 presidential conventions.
* Defeat Ronald Reagan for president in 1984. This effort will require more than all-out support for a Democratic candidate - blacks voted more than 90 percent for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, and he won one and lost one.
Although Mr. Jackson does not discount a black presidential bid, he favors winning local elections as the ''most effective road'' to black political power. In a series of lectures at Harvard University, he espoused ''Bucket Brigade'' campaigns to mobilize the black electorate. He is involved in such a project covering five Southern states - Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Brigades in these states have set goals that include electing black governors, US senators and representatives, and local officials.
Jackson's name has been mentioned as a possible black presidential candidate, along with Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond (D); Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind.; District of Columbia congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, president of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson leads the drive for a black to run for president, preferably in the Democratic primaries. ''We'll all benefit if a black runs for President,'' he claims.
Such a run, he says, would give blacks a decisive voice in the party's power structure, would offer the potential for a coalition with Hispanics, other minorities, and poor whites, and would bring to public attention problems such as housing, jobs, and crime prevention.
''A presidential run? It's almost too late to be effective,'' says Pearl Robinson, a political science professor at Tufts University near Boston. ''It may be wise for blacks to cajole the major parties to articulate policy issues that affect blacks - unemployment, housing, inferior education, structural unemployment of black women, affirmative action, economic development. It would be regrettable to politicize racism. . . .''
Nevertheless, Emma Jackson, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concludes: ''No matter what others may say, think, or do, Jesse Jackson will hold out for a presidential campaign, I believe. What others will do, I can't say.''