Reagan aide: black, Republican, and proud of it
Washington — Melvin L. Bradley relaxes as he talks about how he uprooted his family from California to work and live in the nation's capital. He is a black who sings the praises of President Reagan, calling him an excellent leader and a good boss. He looks through album after album of pictures, showing him talking with the President, hob-nobbing with Vice-President George Bush, relaxing with celebrities at the White House.
``I'm a Reagan Republican,'' Mr. Bradley says. ``I believe in the Reagan philosophy. My stance does not always place me in good stead with most of my people, but I stand by the President.''
As special assistant to the President for policy development, for the past six years, he is the highest ranking black on the White House staff. The wall of plaques, testimonials, and awards attest to the esteem he has achieved not only from the President and the Republican Party, but from organizations and people, too.
``Life in the core of national politics has been rush, rush, rush compared with life out West,'' he says. ``Living here was rather traumatic for us in the beginning. Over time this has worked out to be a rewarding experience for the whole family.''
Recently assigned new and expanded offices in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House, Bradley suggests that black people would do wonders if they sought economic parity and properly managed their $200 billion gross national income. He has designed a blueprint for the 21st-century black that calls for more self-motivation and less complaining.
As a politician Bradley tells American minorities to become a ``two-party people.''
``Why should Republicans work hard for our votes if we all are in the pockets of the Democrats?'' he asks.
Racism appears to be part of the American scene, he says, but he does not blame Reagan for the country's problems in race relations.
[But not every black in the administration shares Bradley's views about the White House. Joseph N. Cooper, who has been director of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance, resigned last Friday to protest Reagan policies.
[As the government official responsible for requiring federal contractors to hire minority workers, Mr. Cooper Wednesday accused some Reagan administration officials of paying only lip service to enforcement of antidiscrimination laws.]
Bradley's early life as part of a one-parent family in Texas prepared him for today, he says.
``I'm from Texarkana, Texas, the product of a segregated school, a public housing project, and a one-parent, large family,'' he says.
``That's no different from many black families of today,'' he adds. ``My mother ... kept me on the straight and narrow. She worked in other people's homes while struggling to feed eight children at her home.''
Bradley grew up in the gospel Christian tradition. ``I still can hear my mother singing `Precious Lord.' I'm where I am because of that strong, strong black woman who had only a ninth-grade education,'' he says. ``Yet she was one of the smartest women I've ever met.''
Living in an area where black voters were not welcome in Democratic primaries, young Bradley could easily have mixed feelings about going Democratic. Black Republicans are beginning to win offices, he says, but more often in nonpartisan elections rather than as Republicans.
His relationship with the President dates back to Reagan's days as governor of California.
``I've known the President for more than 20 years,'' he says. ``We communicate. I have first-person access to him in the White House. Whether this translates into influence and clout, only the President can say. I do say, however, that a case can be made for the notion that I'm not here for showcase purposes.''
Being black is not a handicap as a member of the White House staff, Bradley says. ``I feel comfortable here. Anyone who knows President Reagan will tell you he makes one feel relaxed in his presence. To me the President is more than my employer. He is a friend....''
Whether in an interview in his office, at a banquet given by black Republicans, meeting with personalities at a White House event, or just talking with people on a street corner in a black ghetto, Bradley seems to impress people as believable, even though he is a black Republican.
Bradley often serves as a goodwill ambassador for the President or the Republican Party. He says people receive him with respect, whether they are a group of blacks, who are mostly Democrats, or whether he is speaking to a white audience.
``Of course these people aren't giving me a standing ovation, but I haven't faced the hostility some black Republicans have received from certain groups,'' he says.
``I often get that, `Well, you're here now; so let's get it over with' attitude. After people hear me, surprise, surprise! Their attitudes improve tremendously. We can talk.''
Bradley delivers a basic message on why blacks may easily become Republicans. His key points are:
The Democratic Party has rewarded blacks with few benefits for their loyalty. Blacks are 25 percent of the Democrats' voters, but rarely get rewards or, as candidates, financial backing.
As a black Republican he has earned the respect of co-workers and of the general public.
Blacks have made progress under the Reagan administration. Black colleges have received more funds and greater support under the GOP. Ever since the Nixon presidency, Republican administrations have boosted black capitalism.
Although blacks are dropping out of the Democratic Party, Bradley is less than satisfied. Most black dissidents are registering as independents, he says.
``There is only a trickle of blacks from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party,'' he says. ``But this creeping could accelerate into an avalanche if blacks felt more welcome in the GOP.
``We as Republicans are going to have to work harder if we expect to attract more blacks to our party....''
Bradley likes to talk about what he calls the 21st-century black.
``A new generation of young blacks is taking the stage,'' he says, ``but, frankly, I don't think they will come up with anything new. I say they will begin to return to the basics.''
By basics, he says he means ``a sense of family, a sense of community, a willingness to work hard, the urge for self-direction, for self-motivation.''
To the new black, racism will be a given in the American culture, Bradley says. ``The buppie [upwardly mobile young blacks] generation of blacks will fight racism just as their parents and grandparents did,'' he predicts. ``They will fight racism on every front, but they will not be consumed by the issue of white attitudes toward blacks.''
The new battlefronts will embrace economics, working together, and ``solving our own problems,'' he says.
``Our strongest weapon is our $200 billion buying power,'' he says. ``This annual income makes us a force that must be dealt with. If we use it properly, we can turn this money over several times in our own community before it is moved into the mainstream.''
Black people can become self-sufficient as producers and as business entrepreneurs, he says.
``We can own our own banks, develop our own shopping centers, offer our own insurance,'' Bradley beams. ``With $200 billion we become the world's 10th most powerful financial force.
``What has that to do with racism? The more financially independent we are, the less subject to racism we are. The less we have to worry about racism, the faster the walls of racism fall.''
The bottom line reads that black people are responsible for their own future, Bradley says. ``Certainly, the government has a say in what happens to us,'' he reasons. ``And so does mainstream industry play a role. But we are responsible for creating solutions to our problems. We are capable of doing for ourselves.''
After Reagan, what?
``We're leaving the District,'' Bradley responds.
Although the President has two more years in office, the Bradley family prefers to start anew away from the political arena.
``Politics, no,'' he says. ``I have no desire to seek any form of public office. I don't see myself tied down to the White House until Reagan leaves....''
Resettling in California is not a must, he says. ``My future's up in the air. Civil rights is not my thing either although I feel the administration's programs in job training, quality education, and voting rights have helped black people achieve a better quality of life.
``Private industry is the way for me to go.''