A black presidential nominee is still quite a distance away. A black vice-presidential running mate is now a remote possibility in 1984 and a likelihood before too many years.
Jesse Jackson's apparently imminent presidential candidacy has brought this subject to the foreground of American politics. He has the other Democratic candidates going out of their way to say they would be willing to have a black on the ticket with them. That's their way of trying to hold on to some of their support among blacks during the primaries should Jackson jump into the fray.
It's easy to write a scenario in which Jackson, while falling short of winning the nomination, rallies a great surge of black voters to his side - enough so that he would be able to trade this support for the No. 2 spot on the ticket. He just might be in a position at the convention to offer to, say, Walter Mondale, ''I'll throw this black support toward you if it can be Mondale-Jackson vs. Reagan-Bush in the fall.''
I don't really believe in that scenario. A potent Jackson candidacy is more likely to make its impact felt in another way: He might deprive one of the leaders of the nomination. Already polls show Mondale losing the most by a Jackson candidacy. Perhaps Jackson, in effect, would make the ''difference'' that would nominate John Glenn.
But a Jackson candidacy might well help the eventual Democratic presidential nominee a great deal. It might even elect him.
There is, indeed, a renewed black interest in the political process. Blacks are pouring out to register and then to vote, prodded by highly skilled and energetic Democratic efforts to get this minority group to participate in all elections. Already, the recent Chicago mayoral election and 1982 Texas races are clear illustrations of how blacks can make themselves felt at the polls.
Jackson, who looks quite impressive as he discusses the issues thoughtfully and intelligently, might well lead a resurgence of the black vote, almost all of which as a rule goes to the Democratic presidential candidate.
And in the close election that probably will occur next year, Jackson and blacks could tip the balance toward the Democratic candidate.
President Reagan and his political advisers see this threat. That's why Mr. Reagan is trying to improve his image with blacks. But he's said to believe that he has little hope there. So he's concentrating on trying to induce Hispanic-Americans to come over to his side - at least more of them than last time - hoping this may balance the increased numbers of blacks who will be voting against him.
But Mr. Reagan isn't going to change that ticket of his. He's resisting conservative pressure to replace George Bush with, say, a Jesse Helms or a Jack Kemp. And, likewise, he's certain to turn down any suggestion that he find some black to run with him - as a buffer against this likelihood of increased black turnout for the Democrats.
No doubt about it: The Republicans would likely be able to cut deeply into the black vote by fielding a black vice-presidential candidate. But it won't happen this time.
The scenario that makes the most sense to this reporter is one in which, over the years, the black vote becomes more and more potent to the place where Republicans are persuaded that they must put a black on the ticket, in the second spot. This could well happen within the next decade.
Actually, a few years back, the Republicans were seriously talking about Massachusetts Sen. Ed Brooke as a possible running mate. That was when the Democrats were in the presidency and the Republicans were looking around for the best way to displace them.
Brooke was viewed by his colleagues as one of the brightest among the senators. He was, as would be expected, very sensitive to civil rights causes. And he was a leader in their espousal. But he was looked upon by his constituents not as a black US senator but, instead, as a senator of all the people, white and black.
And that's the kind of black who eventually will get on the presidential ticket.
Again, the black vote flows toward the Democratic presidential candidate, whoever he may be. It has since Franklin Roosevelt. So there will be less pressure on the Democrats to put a black on the ballot.
So it will likely be the Republicans who will first break the color line in the presidential sweepstakes - out of what will be deemed to be political necessity. And the black they will choose will be widely regarded as someone who not only is highly qualified but also represents all of the people. And the person selected might then go on to become the first black president.