Prev Home Next


Congressional Black Caucus and the "Covenant with the NOI"

Kweisi Mfume, head of the Black Caucus, has successfully forged a closer working relationship between the Caucus and the NAACP. Like Ben Chavis, he attempted to develop closer ties between the Caucus and the NOI, announcing a "sacred covenant" between the two, but was forced to back down because of a firestorm of protest from Jewish organizations over Farrakhan's anti-Semitism. In particular, Mfume was forced to admit he hadn't gotten a majority vote of Caucus members to approve any kind of formal arrangement with the NOI. Nevertheless, Mfume and Chavis continued efforts to create a united front, and there were signs of success:

To allay Jewish fears, Mfume met with Jewish leaders in mid-October. In response to that meeting, they agreed to postpone judgment on the Caucus' relationship with Farrakhan. Foxman told the New York Times, "I think there's been a maturing process, and I say it almost in first person .... There was a time when I think you would have heard, 'This is a litmus test. If you sit with them, we won't sit with you.' I think there's a greater respect and a greater appreciation that there are problems that will need different types of coalitions." (Humphries)

Then all hell broke loose with the publication of the ADL's full-page New York Times advertisement quoting copiously from Khalid Muhammed's Kean College speech. The widespread knowledge of the speech's contents led to condemnation by many black leaders and the following statement from Mfume:

"It is clear now that the Caucus feels that such a relationship [with the NOI] is not and will not be considered formal until which time, as it is with other such matters, it is either voted on or agreed by acclamation ... The Congressional Black Caucus' ability to work ... with the Nation of Islam ... is severely jeopardized." (Humphries)

There are two points to make about all of this. First, politicians have to be elected to office and, therefore, have to be careful about who they consort with. The negative publicity emanating from any serious involvement with Farrakhan could jeopardize the careers of elected officials. In addition, these people need to raise money to get into and to stay in office and, therefore, have to be careful lest the dollars dry up. Like it or not, these are facts about our political system, which is why some members take money from the NRA or tobacco interests and others seek money from Planned Parenthood or corporate PACs. Largely because of Farrakhan's involvement, most members of the Caucus and other elected officials walked away from any kind of covenant with the NOI and did not participate in the Leadership Summit.

The second point is more complicated. As was emphasized by some speakers at the Summit, including Chavis, black elected officials should be held accountable by their constituents. Thus, if the electorate is supportive of the kind of coalition Chavis is attempting to build, the Congressional Representatives should participate or be rejected at the polls. Easier said than done, particularly given the realities of electoral politics today. But that is the task. By the same token, the leaders of our major organizations bear the same responsibility to their constituents. We can all vote with our feet and vote with our dollars. In any event, this demonstrates even more clearly why the Chavis Summit initiative is important: if it develops momentum it _can_ provide cover for black elected officials who might otherwise wish to participate. A Chavis can attempt to unify our leadership in a way elected officials simply can't do. At the same time, if the Summit model succeeds in growing, it could provide a way to "discipline" elected officials who don't adequately serve their constituents. But this is the area I have the least hope for.

Prev Home Next

Meanderings 1.06 -- June 11, 1994