I owe a great debt of gratitude to Washington Post columnist William “Bill” Raspberry who recently passed away. Journalism lost a real icon and black journalism lost a great pioneer.
Today, black columnists in mainstream media are common place. When Raspberry started at The Washington Post in 1962, the only black major media syndicated columnist was Carl Rowan. Raspberry became the second.
In most cases, black journalists in those days were limited to the black owned press and finding a black conservative columnist was virtually impossible. It took two more decades for black conservatives Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell to join the ranks.
For those who don’t know, Bill Raspberry was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist whose column appeared in over 200 newspapers.
In the spring of 1980, Raspberry learned that I had given a surrogate speech for Ronald Reagan before Virginia’s Eighth District Congressional Black Caucus just outside of Washington D.C. in my capacity as District of Columbia Finance Chairman for “Reagan for President.”
We met for lunch at the old Broadcasters’ Club near the ABC News Washington Bureau. He found it ironic that, only a few years earlier, I had worked for Benjamin L. Hooks, Nixon’s appointee as the first black member of the Federal Communications Commission.
I had left the FCC shortly after Hooks passed up an opportunity to be FCC chairman in 1977 to lead the NAACP.
The real irony is that, just as Raspberry had been a trailblazer for blacks in the print media, Hooks was the driving force at the FCC in creating rules to expand job and ownership opportunities for blacks in the broadcast and cable industries.
Instead of asking the usual “how can you support Reagan” asked by most black (and white) reporters then and now, Raspberry came with no preconceptions. Instead, he was most interested in my message to the predominantly black audience. As he read my speech, I wondered how he was going to “slant” it.
His column, “Selling Reagan to the Blacks,” ran on Wednesday, March 3, 1980 (see www.mckeecommunications.com). It was accurate, straight forward, and objective — no twisting my words or sarcastic editorial comments!
It began: “If Clarence McKee can pull this one off, he should have no trouble selling Corvairs to Nader’s Raiders or Laetrile to the Food and Drug Administration.”
The Chevrolet Corvair was the target of consumer advocate Ralph Nader who criticized the car in his book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Laetrile had been used as an anti-cancer treatment that the FDA had not approved for use in the United States.
As I reviewed his column after learning of his death, I could not help but think of how applicable the speech’s message is today: “We must also not forget those of the black middle class — people who have worked hard, despite obstcles, to become participating and self-sufficient members of our society. It is from this group that the black youth of our country find role models to use as examples of success in their lives…
"The 'average hard working black . . . bus driver, government employee and business person is being devastated by double-digit inflation and skyrocketing interest rates . . . which are serving to erode the economic gains of the past decade.'”
Delete “inflation” and “interest rates”; insert 14 percent unemployment and poverty headed to the highest levels since the 1960s and we are looking at today.
He then reported my response to his question as to what blacks needed: “Not more poverty programs or civil-righs laws, but tuition tax credits, revisions in the estate tax and . . . relief from burdensome personal-income tax and property taxes which keep [blacks] in a vicious circle of having each salary increase eaten away by a corresponding tax increase.” Sound familiar?
He concluded: “McKee acknowledes that his Reagan pitch produces more raised eybrows than applause from black audiences, but ‘at least they don’t hiss and boo.' He sees that as a hopeful sign.”
Shortly after the column appeared in The Los Angeles Times, actor/comic Tony Randall made a sarcastic remark on “The Tonight Show” on how he had read in Raspberry’s column about — to paraphrase — “some black guy trying to get blacks to vote for Reagan" — laughter, of course!
Even more laughter, and I believe applause, came when host Johnny Carson asked — again paraphrasing — “if they met in a phone booth.”
The column got the attention of the Reagan team in California many of whom I worked with in the campaign and throughout the Reagan-Bush years.
Thanks to a strong commitment to issues and minority voter outreach by the Reagan-Bush campaigns and the Republican National Committee, Reagan got 11 and 9 percent of the black and 35 and 37 percent of the Hispanic vote in ’80 and ’84 respectively.
Romney would do well if he can duplicate those numbers.
As for my efforts, it all started with Bill’s column. Thanks for everything my friend!
One thing is clear, when it comes to blacks and politics, nothing has really changed.
Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as the Reagan presidential campaigns to include the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation. He was also appointed chairman of the District of Columbia Reagan-Bush Campaign and he chaired the District of Columbia Delegation to the Republican National Convention in Dallas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more reports from Clarence V. McKee — Click Here Now.
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