This being Black History Month, the mainstream media usually makes sure it reports as much as possible about positive things that black folk have done and are doing. But, I presume, when such things involve conservatives, even black folk get slighted. Where am I headed?
It has been nearly 50 years since Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. A lot of American history has happened since then, but perhaps none as striking as the pivotal role that black churches played in the Parks incident and the modern-day civil rights movement. Now, ministers around the country are uniting behind what is being hailed as the Black Contract with America on Moral Values, and the obvious is being asked: Will history repeat itself?
Just as the Revs. Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy and others stood on moral ground behind Mrs. Parks and established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ministers met this week in Los Angeles with the newly established High-Impact Leadership Coalition. While some of the issues this time around are distinctly conservative or liberal, the ministers' motivation comes straight from the Bible.
So far, the ministers and their supporters have targeted six issues -- marriage, Social Security and homeownership, education reform, prison reform, health care for the poor and Africa -- and seven cities where they will spread their messages -- Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Washington. Neither the timing of the ambitious initiative nor the location is coincidental, since much of black America already agreed with President Bush on the issues of marriage, school reform and prison reform.
Indeed, while many conservatives cringe at the prospect of losing the homosexual vote, the fact of the matter is black America has never embraced that demographic, helping, perhaps, to explain why, while most blacks remained faithful to the Democratic Plantation, er, Party in the 2004 presidential election, the black vote for the Bush-Cheney ticket increased. Look at Ohio, where black support for Mr. Bush rose from 9 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2004, handing the Bush-Cheney team an outright victory over Kerry-Edwards -- a feat that the we-shall-overcome crowd has yet to accept.
Of course, detractors of the Black Contract with America believe it's all a set up. In their crystal ball, white evangelicals and the Republican Party are going to whitewash all but one issue on the initiative and abandon black voters by 2008, so that the only issue bridging the racial divide is that of marriage. These detractors, at least the ones I've spoken with, believe that the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are only interested in the war on terror and Social Security. They should know better. They should know that, while Bush-Cheney cannot succeed itself, the party can retain the White House and must, this early in the game, begin positioning itselffor 2008.
More imminent, however, are the local, state and congressional elections this year, as well as in 2006. The politicians in those races will not only have to tell voters what has been done for them lately, but what remains on the horizon. Social Security, homeland security and the economy are national issues that must be reckoned with. But when you get to discussing local and state budgets, voters think schools, crime and taxes -- issues encompassed by the Black Contract with America.
That churches are blowing the trumpet to rally black America around a morally sound agenda is not surprising. For one thing, even during slavery, the Bible was the chief learning tool for slaves. And after the turn of the 20th century, when the bigotry and the KKK used both the law and terror to undo much of what America had accomplished during Reconstruction, black America again turned to the Bible and its teachings on social justice. Martin Luther King, et al., turned not only to the good book, but to church facilities, to hold strategy sessions on striking down Jim Crow.
The Bush administration's faith-based initiative, thankfully, encouraged black ministers to keep their Bibles in one hand and an agenda in the other. As Bishop Harry Jackson, an evangelical and charirman of High-Impact Leadership Coalition, said in an Op-Ed that appeared in The Washington Times in October: "Republicans are historically weak on justice, while Democrats tend to encourage freedom of the individual without strong moral mandates."
While the Black Contract with America presents a challenging paradox for those church groups that have 501(3)(c) tax-exempt status (which prohibits partisan political talk), I hope they speak out straight and frequently about fixing what all ails our urban areas. There's a hallejulah chorus out there that has been too quiet for far too long.