Thursday, November 29, 2001

Black leaders will attempt to thrust reparations and the Florida 2000 election issues they say have been cast aside in the shadow of September 11 into the national spotlight at the State of the Black World Conference this weekend in Atlanta.
“We cannot sweep these things under the rug under the guise of patriotism,” said Mark Thompson, a personality at WOL radio in the District.
Most blacks are concerned about the nation at war, he said, but refuse to allow it to obscure their overriding concern: the welfare of black America.
“We’ve been accused of being non-patriotic when we try to keep these issues in the forefront,” said Mr. Thompson, who tomorrow will moderate a panel about the terrorist attacks and their effects on the black community.
“But just as before September 11, we have to make sure that our issues are taken seriously. It’s been a year since the Florida election, but there is still nothing being done. This has been exactly what those who oppose the African-American agenda want cover.”
Many black leaders maintained that black voters in Florida’s presidential election last year were disenfranchised. Some claimed registration irregularities and illegal polling purges.
How well these issues will play to the rest of America, which overwhelmingly supports the country’s war against terrorism, does not concern some participants of the event, which is expected to draw 5,000 people.
Reparations, the call for compensation to the nation’s blacks as payment for slavery, will get extra attention during this weekend’s conference. It topped the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s agenda upon his return from the World Conference on Racism in September, when he announced that “reparations is an idea whose time has come.”
“[September 11] was also an opportunity to see the possibilities of what can happen to people who are under the influence of terror, as [blacks] have been,” said Dorothy Lewis, co-chairman of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.
“Slavery was terrorism. We can now use September 11 to see terrorism,” she said.
The guest list for the conference, which starts today and runs through Sunday, includes leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and Hollywood celebrities. Actor Danny Glover, television personality and author Tavis Smiley, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, and lawyer Johnnie Cochran are among those expected to attend.
Tonight’s gathering offers the added allure of a town-hall meeting with estranged partners in activism, Mr. Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, sitting side by side.
Mr. Jackson appeared with New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at ground zero following the September 11 attacks, a move that was considered a conspicuous show of solidarity with a man who was considered by Mr. Sharpton to be an enemy of the city’s black-led civil-rights movement. The move added fuel to Mr. Jackson’s tenuous relationship with Mr. Sharpton.
While the names are familiar, the issues are even more so.
Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, will participate in tomorrow’s panel on reparations. The issue of profiling, he said, was of particular concern to the black community before the attacks. He said he hoped the profiling of Arabs would refocus attention on the problem.
“There is a lot of feeling in the African-American community that our issues have been shoved into the background,” Mr. Walters said. “Things we had tried early in the administration to get heard, such as this profiling, may now have more of a chance, because it’s no longer just blacks, but also people of Middle Eastern descent.”
Mr. Walters said American blacks are ready to emerge with a louder voice in the spate of flag-waving, and that “there is no better time to do it because there is so much concern about American unity. I think people had expected a one-dimensional response, but given the history of blacks in America, they are way off base.”
Despite Mr. Walters’ promise of a newly energized bloc, the black community has joined the rest of America in polls that give President Bush an astonishing favorability rating. The ranking was all the more remarkable because 7 percent of blacks voted for him in 2000.
Some high-profile black groups made unprecedented shows of patriotism. A week after the attacks, Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, denounced comments by Durham, N.C., Chapter President Curtis Gatewood that were critical of Mr. Bush.
Missing from the weekend’s conference is a voice of a glaring minority in the black community: Republicans. It is a representation that always has been in short supply at gatherings of the black establishment.
“I look at the list of those invited and notice that people of my thinking are not represented at all,” said Alvin Williams, executive director of Black America’s Political Action Committee, a group with Republican leanings.
“When people have these conferences, I would encourage them to include all voices. To ignore that is dangerous and irresponsible.”

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