― 1 ―
This past week, the statewide Negro Political Action Association's meeting in Bakersfield endorsed a Negro, William J. Williams of Los Angeles, as a candidate for Secretary of State on the Democratic ticket. The Association is headed by Assemblyman Byron Rumford of Oakland and myself. Attending the open convention were over 535 delegates from more than 30 different counties of our state.
The decision of the Association to draft a minority candidate for this office has had wide favorable response. At the same time the action has been opposed by a few on two counts: first, on purely political grounds by those who favor other candidates; and secondly, on ideological grounds by some liberals who raise the issue whether such action constitutes "segregation in reverse." It is this latter issue that I would like to discuss.
In the first place, it should be made abundantly clear that "race" was not the only or even major consideration. The candidate is highly qualified, is committed to a vigorous, forward looking program, and is electable.
In the electoral strategy of American political parties, the balancing of tickets on a sectional, national-origin, religion or color basis is the rule and is generally done. President Johnson, selected as a running mate by the late John F. Kennedy, enjoys the Presidency today by virtue of this political strategy. It is just good politics in the melting pot we call America to attract support to a
― 2 ―party's candidates by recognizing the various ethnic and national groups that make up the citizenry in the process of melting. It just so happens that in the Negro's case, he has not been generally recognized because he has not exerted the pressure, at least in his own behalf. The fact that Negroes who have on various occasions been the balance of power that produced victories at the polls in behalf of other candidates should decide to demand one of those candidates for himself is not only a logical development but long overdue.
I hope the day comes in our lifetime when we can forget about color and just be ourselves—but until we have done away with the slum-ghettoes, discriminatory practices in job opportunities and segregated schools, we will be forced to think of color.
In the past, especially in the south, we who are Negroes have had to depend on others to represent us. Now we have leadership potential and group coherence to speak for our own rights, to make our own deals at the bargaining tables . . . and not have to wait for the crumbs to fall our way.
Again, there are those who say a Negro cannot be elected. They imply they welcome the idea but that the time is not appropriate or that since Negroes constitute only about six percent of the state's total population, this fact alone precludes a Negro's being elected. Facts, however, cry out against this old-fashioned, bottonshoe talk.
― 3 ―
Edward W. Brooke is Attorney General of Massachusetts which has only a two percent Negro population. Another Negro, Gerald Lamb is State Treasurer in Connecticut whose Negroes number less than five percent of the population.
These and countless other cases show that whites accept political leadership from Negroes but on the same basis that Negroes are learning to accept leadership, when it is qualified, when it has a program, and when the group can move forward instead of only one or a few individuals reaping all the benefits from someone's election.
In the elections this year, seven of the nine statewide elective offices are to be filled. If all of the liberal, pro-labor, minority and civil rights groups can't elect one racial minority person to one of those offices, this is a good time to find out why.
Major breakthroughs are never made by waiting on what one believes to be "the appropriate time;" otherwise they would not be breakthroughs. The benefits and rights we have won from the civil rights revolution were won against long odds and by a few people acting without waiting for concensus. It was moved along by one woman in Alabama, another woman and seven children in Little Rock, Arkansas, and one college student in Greensboro, North Carolina; later joined by three others who made a decision that they would demand to be served at a lunch counter in a dime store which had never before served Negroes.
Lyndon Johnson has proved that a white Texan can lead the nation, Ralph Bunche has proved that a Negro can
― 4 ―serve in the cause of peace. Bob Weaver was selected as a member of the Cabinet because he knew about housing. Willie Mays is the highest paid man in baseball because he carries the team. Yet none of these men would have succeeded had they been persuaded by their handicaps that the time was not appropriate for them to compete.
The issue is clear. It is that what is good for Negroes is not antagonistic to the general good. The things Negroes seek and champion: full employment, decent housing, good schools, human rights, and a peaceful world . . . are all in the interest of a prosperous, better life for us all. If a Negro candidate, in a given situation, can best serve to obtain these things, why should we worry about the color of his skin?