Yvonne Burke

Politics and the Black Economic Condition - May 1, 1976

Yvonne Burke
May 01, 1976— Charlotte, North Carolina
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Burke, then the chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, delivered these remarks at the Caucus of Black Democrats Issues Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 1, 1976. They were entered into the Congressional Record by Rep. Andrew Young (D-GA) on May 4, 1976.

Black Democrats and Black Elected Officials have come together in Charlotte, North Carolina to speak to our party and to our nation about the economic condition and the needs of Black people in the country today—but most important—to talk among ourselves about what policies and actions we would like to see the next President of the United States undertake to improve and advance the Black Economic condition.

We have had many gatherings in the past but never as a full Caucus of Black Democrats…

We met in Gary…We met at Little Rock and we met in Cincinnati to evaluate the responsiveness of the political system to the needs of Black Americans…and to discuss the feasibility of alternative political approaches.

You can remember that we were at our Party's convention in Los Angeles in 1960, in New Jersey in 1964, in Chicago in 1968…and again in Miami Beach in 1972 where our numbers were even greater.

You also know that we have held countless meetings, conferences and forums on issues important to Black Elected Officials and their constituents.

Now we are here in Charlotte in 1976 where each of us recognizes that the foremost problem facing Black Americans in 1976 is the economy. An economy which we recognize as a problem facing all Americans, but one which has caused even greater hardships for Blacks. Our share of the problem is clearly disproportionate.

We are here also to recognize some painful realities:

We know that Blacks still earn less than whites…In 1974 the median income for whites was $13,356, while for Blacks it was only $7,808, a $6,548 per year difference.

We also know that despite our tremendous educational achievements, we must wage a continuing fight to obtain resources for Blacks to attend college and for Black colleges to keep their doors open.

We know that our high school graduates are prevented from achieving an educational level that is sufficient to allow them to reach the full potential of their innate abilities…that eroded school systems are preventing these young people from gaining full access to the benefits of American society.

We listen to debate on the excessiveness of government and the problems of government-sponsored programs, but we do not hear of the benefits a major full employment program would have in stimulating billions of dollars in additional spending and taxes from individuals and from the private sector. Those who focus on the private sector fail to analyze the private sector's relationship to Blacks. No one has recognized that a major factor in our present depressed economic condition is the fact that we have been excluded.

Look at some realities:

Of the total number of businesses in America—excluding corporations—only 2.7 percent are owned by Blacks.

Of the total gross receipts of businesses, Black businesses accounted for only .1.7 percent.

Of the 14,000 banks in the United States, fewer than 100 are Black owned.

Of the 962 television stations (commercial and public), there is only 1 Black-owned station.

Of the 7,258 radio stations in the country, only 35 are Black-owned, despite the great impact we know the media plays in shaping the opinions of our citizens.

We are fortunate to have at least 130 Black weekly newspapers in the country, but only 4 Black-owned daily newspapers.

The fact is that Blacks make up not only a large bloc of voters, but we represent a large number of consumers as well. The most recent estimates of our spending power show that Blacks spend approximately $60 billion per year. This is truly an astounding figure when we consider our almost total lack of input into market decisions.

It becomes needless to review again and again all of the statistics which show the relative economic condition of Blacks in contrast to our numbers and spending power, but we must keep them in mind as we review the relationship between politics and the economic condition of Blacks as we discuss our goals in 1976.

We meet here in Charlotte representing an electorate of some 15 million persons of voting age…some 25 million Blacks of all ages. Among us are many of the 3500 Blacks who hold public office—from the Congress to the State Houses—from our Mayors to our school board members and our county officials.

Tremendous gains have been made without a doubt by Black Elected Officials in the last decade, and these officials have within their power the ability to achieve many of the goals, economic and political—set forth by Blacks.

But one of the reasons that we are here today is that we recognize that Black Elected Officials cannot alone truly change the economic condition of Blacks of the overall economy. We must have an administration that is aware and sensitive to the inequities which still exist for Black Americans and we must have non-Black Elected officials at all levels of government who are responsive to our needs.

There is one clear reality which cannot be ignored—we represent an electorate without which many senators and Representatives and Officials of other levels of government cannot hope to win elections.

We know that as Blacks we had about a 45 percent turnout in 1972, but that we provided 25 percent of the vote received in the general election by the Democratic nominee.

The examples are striking as to how we have made the Black vote count in past Presidential elections as we recognized our self-interest.

In 1948, President Truman could not have defeated Thomas Dewey without the Black vote. California, Illinois and Ohio were key electoral States and he carried them by only several thousand votes each, which included solid Black support. In 1960, John Kennedy could not have won without the Black vote. His narrow margin of victory included about 80 percent of the Black vote, and the Black vote in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York provided him with key margins in States with many electoral votes.

The political forecasters tell us that the Presidential Election in 1976 is likely to be close as well, and no Democratic Candidate can afford to ignore the Black vote.

I cannot stress enough the importance of looking at elections beyond the Presidential election in bringing to bear the strength of the Black vote. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I see every day the increasing responsiveness of formerly unsympathetic Representatives to their newly enfranchised Black constituents. That is strikingly true in the South. Many Representatives from Districts 25, 30 and 40 percent Black have in the past voted consistently against the positions taken by the Congressional Black caucus. That fact, thanks to many of you here in Charlotte, is beginning to change.

These members see that a sizable voting bloc in their Districts want the Voting Rights Act to continue, want school lunch programs to continue, want decent jobs and good housing. And they have begun to give us their votes in Congress. But I must tell you that there are still far too many instances where they have continued to vote against your interests. Only through a more direct and concentrated monitoring of critical votes by you at the local level will change that.

We know that our political power must be brought to bear immediately to increase the shockingly small number of Black delegates who have been selected so far. In 1972, we represented 16 percent of the convention delegates. To date in 1976, we make up half that proportion.

There are 21 primaries remaining and in many States, at-large delegates are still to be selected. The burden is on the Presidential candidates to see that Black delegates go to the convention in New York in numbers responsive to the 25 percent of the Democratic vote Blacks have provided.

What the Black voter impact in past elections—particularly in Presidential Elections—means is that Blacks will vote if they believe they are voting for a better way of life and for an Administration that will be sensitive to their needs and their problems. We have the power now to shape our economic condition…and we can thereby improve our overall condition.

What we are saying here in Charlotte is that Blacks can elect a President, and that no Democratic Nominee can become president unless we are motivated to vote—to register and then to go to the polls and vote. There are at least 16 million Blacks of voting age who can register and vote. Yet, in the primaries to date, only a small percentage of that potential support has been brought to bear. That support will not be given and must not be given unless support—strong and outspoken support—is given to us on major issues.

So we come to the major question for Blacks in Election Year 1976. What is it that we want from this person who would lead our country—What do we want from a candidate and from a President?

We want a candidate who will endorse and a President who will implement our issue priorities. The first priority is passage of the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1976. This bill has been the highest priority of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as of many national organizations and of an impressive number of local elected officials.

The Full Employment Bill is based on the premise that economic conditions and economic policies are inseparable factors, and that Black joblessness over the years is not accidental. It is a bill which would bring about a fundamental restructuring of our economic system. It would secure the opportunity for a job to all persons willing, able and seeking to work. It is the heart of our program to improve the economic condition for Black Americans and for all Americans.

We want a candidate who endorses and a President who will implement an issues platform which speaks to our needs in urban areas and rural areas. A platform that addresses our needs in equal opportunity, in health, in education, in the areas of energy and criminal justice reform. We want our needs viewed in the area of income maintenance to include welfare, food stamps, and tax reform…Just as we want a commitment to minority business development and full recognition of our concerns about National Policy toward Africa.

We want a President who will not count our proposals in these areas as inflationary and reflective of too much federal government, but rather one who recognizes that a full employment policy would bring an additional $200 billion into our economy, bring in more tax revenue, increase private spending and production. We want a President who clearly recognizes that we already have quite a lot of government for the wealthier segments of our society…That use regulations to foster monopoly and reduce competition…but too little government for those at the bottom.

We want a President who will have the Department of Commerce provide business opportunities for minorities. One who will insure that there are set-asides in the awarding of contracts for a sufficient number of Black businesses to increase their viability, as is now done for larger corporations.

We want a President who will look at the Interstate Commerce Commission and who will recognize that it is important for Blacks to participate in such industries as trucking, and who will change this Commission by appointing Commissioners who will provide equality in licensing to insure Black participation.

We want a President who will make appointments to the Federal Communications Commission so that policies and regulations will be developed to provide meaningful access by Blacks to commercial and public television and radio ownership, so that minorities can move into this area from which they have been excluded for so long.

We want a President who recognizes that the only way deteriorated urban centers can be rebuilt is by Government action. We want a President who would make decisions on such matters as the location of Federal Buildings so as to improve rather than undercut the viability of our cities. The Federal lead would encourage private industry to remain or relocate in our urban centers.

We want a President who will say to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development that we will make home ownership available not just to the top income earners, but to those at the bottom as well. A President who would recognize as the National Rural Housing Coalition has pointed out, that 1 percent of the population with incomes above $50,000 per year receives $1.4 billion each year, or 10 percent of all housing subsidies through tax deductions. That by comparison the 14 percent of the population that earns less than $3,000 per year receives only 7 percent of all housing subsidies, or $0.9 billion per year.

We want a President who knows that food must be provided for the needy and who understands that a food stamp user is not automatically a "Food Stamp Chiseler".

We want a President who recognizes that a Department of Agriculture which makes millions of dollars in grain available to other countries, thereby driving up the price of bread for American consumers…And even foots the bill for transporting that grain…cannot ever earn the respect and confidence of poor Americans.

We want a President who will appoint a Secretary of State who recognizes that the future of America is tied to Africa and that we must have a strong policy of resource development on that continent through such acts as putting more money into African Development Bank, working to develop more favorable trade policies toward African nations, and by ensuring that U.S. corporations develop investment policies which are consistent with the development of Africa for its people.

We want a President who will encourage the participation of Blacks at every level in the Department of Transportation, who understands that mass transportation and the revitalization of the urban centers are inseparable, and who will encourage the Secretary of Transportation to use his powers to ensure effective minority participation with the recently-funded Conrail system to revitalize the nation's railroads.

We want a President dedicated to a strong Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with effective powers and procedures for solving the problem of employment discrimination. Because until these problems are solved and adequate methods for redress of grievances exits, Blacks can never move into positions of authority. Such a President would recognize the absurdity of talking about reverse discrimination in a situation where the options for Blacks are so limited.

We want a President who will recognize education as a right and not as a privilege, and who recognizes the obligation by the Federal Government to provide the necessary loans and student aid to the disadvantaged so that they will be able to obtain a college degree and join the work force and contribute to the Nation's development.

We want a President who will support the kind of tax reform which truly eliminates the discrepancies which now allow major corporations to pay no tax while literally millions of poor and working class persons pay disproportionate amounts in taxes which they need for basic survival.

We want a President who recognizes that reform of our welfare system is critical if we are to make taxpayers of those non-workers who want to work but cannot find it…One who knows that adequate income must be provided those who cannot find work. Such a President would work to create a situation where the vicious cycle of poverty would be eliminated and would not endorse a level of political rhetoric borne out of ignorance and insensitivity which continues to blame victims for their plight.

We want a President who will not blindly support a massive military budget that takes money from social welfare programs that meet proven needs.

Power, whether political or economic, will not flow to us without forceful, dynamic action on our part to draw it to us Economic decisions in this country are made in the political arena. Through the foundations of the past we know that we have built the channel for Black Power. Now we must divert that power into Black Economic and Political endeavors.

It is our goal and mission as we go from here to see that our goals are implemented and that our demands are met. But our goals and demands will be no more than articulate rhetoric of the past undated by present realities unless we go from here into our communities and develop a Black voter registration plan which will get our brothers and sisters to vote, and see to it that they go to the polls at election time.

We must bring all the organizations of the Black community to bear on National Politics just as they have been brought to bear on politics within our own communities.

Leader of religious, business, civil rights, professional, social, civic, fraternal and political organizations must enter into a Black voter registration brain trust to devise a strategy to reach people. Our barber and beauty shops, entertainment spots, athletic events and, in fact, every social and business meeting of Blacks ought to begin with information on how to register, so that our numbers at the polls more closely resemble our numbers in the population.

We know how to turn out a crowd for "Earth, Wind and Fire or for The Temptations". We need to be able to turn out a crowd like that at the polls.

There are still skeptics among us who ask, "How is my one little vote going to count? How can Black people who are only 12 to 15 percent of the country decide elections"? To those questions I say:

Why vote? Vote because we have the highest percentage of poor people of any other group our size in the population in the richest and most achieving nation in the world.

Why vote? Vote because hundreds of the most talented leaders of our society are going unused or abused in political and economic positions because they are Black.

Why vote? Vote because that is the only institutionalized racism makes a mockery of other's good intentions and dehumanizes and cripples our people.

Why vote? Vote because we bear the brunt of poor planning decisions and poor leaders.

Why vote? Vote because that is the only way to make the political system respond to us and help undo the injustices of the past.

In this bicentennial year, when most Americans can celebrate 200 years of freedom of opportunity, we still must fight for basic freedoms and opportunities. We still must fight for basic civil rights and economic equality. But our increasing power and our ability to bring that power and influence to bear on the nation's political and economic structures can bring about the change we all seek.

Most importantly today, I want us all to understand that Black empowerment will only come through our own collective efforts. No one of us alone can deliver the Black vote into a power block backed by an issues platform like we are developing here in Charlotte. If, in the next hundred years of American life, the Black community is to become an equal partner in this American revolution, we must remember the immortal words of Billie Holliday: "God Bless the Child that's got his own.

Today, this year, and forever, Let's Get Our Own.

Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite (D-CA). “Politics and the Black Economic Condition.” Remarks delivered at Caucus of Black Democrats Issues Conference. Charlotte, NC, May 1, 1976. Printed in Congressional Record 122 (May 4, 1976), p. E12520-22.