Interview with Richard Hatcher

Now what was going on in 1983?


We were in 1983 concerned about the upcoming presidential election of 1984, and what the role of the Black community would be. As a consequence, a group of maybe about 15, 12 to 15, ah, Black leaders from around the country, leaders of civil rights organizations, political leaders, ah, began a series of meetings, ah, that took place over the space of the year. Ah, we would, ah, fly into an airport somewhere, hold a meeting at the airport and leave. There would be no publicity, in fact we worked very hard to not let the press know that we were having these meetings. Ah, we had meetings at the Atlanta airport. We had meetings at the Chicago O'Hare airport. And, ah, the discussion initially began around a Black agenda for the 1984 presidential election, that is, an agenda by which we could test the presidential candidates, and determine whether they were worthy of the support of the Black community. Ah, somewhere along the way, ah, the discussion evolved into a question of should a Black run for President of the United States? And as I said, ah, there was tremendous division, ah, on that question. And at each meeting we'd have a debate. There would be talk about taking a vote, but we would not take a vote because it was clear that the group was, ah, very much, ah, divided. Ah, and we had, ah, elected officials, ah, mayors, ah, Andy Young, myself, ah, others were there. We had heads of civil rights organizations. Ben Hooks, ah, Joe Lowery, ah, ah, attended, ah, some of those meetings, along with others. Ah, Rev. Jesse Jackson was at those meetings. There were a number of people who in one way or another, ah, played some leadership role in our community. But, ah, this division prevented our reaching resolution of this question. And it became rather frustrating, very frankly, to me, so that at the meeting, the, the last meeting that was held, which was held in Chicago at the airport, ah, I had reached a point where, ah, it just seemed to me that the time had come for us to put up or shut up. And so, ah, I asked that we go around the table, because some people were suggesting that one reason they didn't want to, ah, say, "Go with the Black candidate," there was a real question of who that candidate was going to be. And I think that many of the persons there had some suspicions that this whole series of meetings had been staged, ah, by Rev. Jackson to somehow promote his candidacy. And I can tell you flatly that was not the case, that his involvement, ah, was a very sincere involvement. It was, "I believe it's time for a Black to run," but it was not a question that, "I'm the one that ought to run." I don't think that, ah, when those meetings began, and certainly as they went on that was, that was his thought. So at any rate, I finally said, "Let's go around the table, and ask each person here if that person wants to be a candidate for President. We ought to ask that question!" And we did. We went, ah, from one to another, ah, and asked the question, "do you want to be a Pres- ah, candidate for President?" "Oh no, absolutely not." I mean, everyone going around the table said, "No." Rev. Jackson said, "I think that it is so important that a Black run, that if no-one else wants to run, then I would be willing, ah, to be a candidate, because I think it is, ah, it is so important." Well, once we had gone through that exercise, then it became clear that there was nothing left to do but to vote on this question, "Should a Black run, or should a Black not run?" And the motion itself was very carefully worded, ah, to, ah, say, only that if it passed, that it meant that a Black should run, or could run, that it did not in any way endorse any particular individual being a candidate, and secondly, that if people wanted to support, people in this meeting wanted to support a Black candidate who might decide to run, they could do so if they chose to do so. So, it was a very innocuous, carefully worded motion that ultimately passed and was passed by the group. Ah, so that basically what it did was to leave anyone there, or I suppose people who, people who were not there, if they chose to run, they could run. Ah, in another words it would not be viewed as a betrayal of the Black community if they should run, which is an interesting ah, interesting notion.