Presidential hopefuls take the stage at civil rights conventions. Bush, Hart head cast before NAACP, others set for Urban League
Boston — The next presidential election is two years away, but major politicians, Republican and Democrat, black and white, are ready to serve generous amounts of campaign oratory to the nation's two leading civil rights organizations. Last week it was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Later this month it will be the National Urban League.
The political pressure was openly evident at the NAACP's 77th annual convention in Baltimore (June 28-July 3). The National Urban League will repeat the process of offering a public forum to leading figures of both parties when it holds its 76th national conference July 20-23 in San Francisco.
``We invite the president to each of our national conventions,'' says Benjamin L. Hooks, NAACP executive director. ``President Reagan told us that he couldn't make the date we set [July 3], but he requested that Vice-President [George] Bush speak in his place.''
Like most civil rights groups, both the Urban League and the NAACP have been critical of the Reagan administration, but neither group rejects Republican speakers. In addition to Mr. Bush, the NAACP heard Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R) of Maryland.
Delegates could hardly tell Bush and Senator Mathias from the Democrats who addressed them. All gave rousing civil rights addresses. Some Republicans separated their views from those of the administration on affirmative action. Democrats blasted Reagan policies. Each speaker tried to be sensitive to programs advocated by the NAACP.
The vice-president received a more cordial response this year than he did two years ago, when he addressed the NAACP meeting in Kansas City, Mo. At that time he scolded blacks for voting Democratic without giving the GOP a second look. This year the NAACP altered its convention program to accommodate the vice-president. He spoke to a $20-a-plate youth luncheon, planned for 200, but increased to 500, the maximum capacity of the hotel function room.
Bush praised NAACP efforts to generate more jobs for black teen-agers, to deal with teen pregnancies, to improve schools, and to fight crime and the drug trade in black communities. ``Enterprise zones create jobs,'' he said. ``The time to pass legislation is now.'' He recommended partnerships ``of families and individuals, of community groups and social organizations, of governments and private businesses....''
Both he and Senator Mathias spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, but both added that they may differ from the NAACP on how to persuade the South African government to change its policies.
Democrats tend to dominate the spotlight at black conventions. It was no different in Baltimore. The NAACP heard and cheered the words of Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, an all-but-declared presidential candidate in 1988.
Delegates applauded loudly for Hubert H. Humphrey III, who revived memories of his late father, former vice-president and US Sen. Hubert Humphrey, always a favorite among black people. Mr. Humphrey reechoed many of his father's ideas. He said nothing about being a presidential hopeful.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware tossed his hat into the presidential ring but said he favored a 1992 run. He did leave himself open for the 1988 Democratic primaries, however. To some black Democrats he symbolizes the new liberal voice rising in the party.
The association also heard from four high-ranking black Democrats, C.Delores Tucker of the National Democratic Committee; Walter L. Fauntroy, who represents Washington, D.C. in Congress; Lt. Gov. L.Douglas Wilder of Virginia; and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D) of Maryland, who is running for lieutenant governor of his state.
Democratic speakers also addressed issues of apartheid, black family disintegration, high black unemployment (especially among the young), and the high rate of crime and drug abuse in ghetto neighborhoods.
Mr. Wilder stressed the need to improve education for blacks and to reduce what he called a critical drug problem.
The National Urban League will hear several leading Republicans at its San Francisco conclave. These include Secretary Samuel A. Pierce of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the lone black in the Reagan Cabinet, and Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey. Last fall Governor Kean attracted a majority of his state's black voters in his bid for reelection. He did not win the black vote when he was elected to his first term in 1981.
A black Democrat, Willie L. Brown, speaker of the California Assembly, is scheduled to address the closing dinner of the Urban League convention.