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Black Leaders Meet with Obama Concerning Lack of Jobs

James Wright | 2/17/2010, 3:03 p.m.

Even though the Washington, D.C. area was snowed into submission, Wed., Feb. 10, it did not deter three of the leaders of the nation€s civil rights organizations from meeting with President Obama at the White House to express their concerns about how the economy is affecting African Americans.

Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network met with Obama for an about hour to talk about Black unemployment throughout the country. Dr. Dorothy Height, chairwoman and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women was invited, but due to the inclement weather she was unable to attend.

After the meeting, Morial, 52, said that the deep recession is having a terrible affect on Blacks.

€The crisis of unemployment and underemployment among urban and minority communities has reached a devastating level and it continues to deepen,€ said Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans.

€While the overall picture appears to be brightening, we cannot allow it to blind us to the worsening situation for Black Americans. I believe our meeting with President Obama has focused his attention more solidly on the plight of these neglected communities.€

African American men are disproportionately affected by the nation's economic downturn. Morial met with Obama to discuss measures of ensuring their inclusion in economic recovery efforts.Courtesy Photo
The nation€s unemployment rate recently dropped from 10 percent in December 2009 to 9.7 percent in January, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Black unemployment rate nationally is 16.5 percent while it is 8.7 percent for Whites, according to Labor statistics.

Morial said the jobless rate for Black men for January, 17.6 percent and on the rise, is approaching the worst of the Great Depression, when nearly one in four Americans were unemployed. He pointed out that percentage of White men unemployed in January citing 9.1 percent.

Cities with large Black populations appear to have high rates of unemployment. For instance, Detroit -- which is 81 percent Black -- has a jobless rate of nearly 30 percent but the mayor of that city, David Bing, and other city leaders told the Detroit News in its Dec. 16, 2009 editions that the actual figure is closer to 50 percent.

Washington, D.C, has a 12.1 percent unemployment rate with a population that is 54 percent Black. That is an historic high for the nation€s capital. D.C. Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) recently authored a bill to help remedy the problem by providing tax credits for businesses if they hire District residents.

The president and the leaders talked about targeting aid to regions to help Black people and others who have been disproportionately hit the hardest by the recession, Jealous, 37, said according to The Associated Press.

€When you try to focus on how to lift all boats, what you come back to are places --geographic areas, urban and rural, where assistance should be located,€ Jealous told AP.

€That approach can work if Congress let€s it work. This is about place. It€s not about race.€

Throughout his presidency, Obama has made it clear that he cannot target or support pro-employment programs that deal exclusively with Blacks but he does support targeting areas of the country such as Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio, which would help African American employment also. Obama said this to the Congressional Black Caucus and other organizations of color.

Even though the leaders represent organizations with predominantly Black memberships, the issue of race seemed secondary in some aspects.
€We€re not looking for race-based programs but, like the president, we want to make sure that everyone is included,€ Sharpton said.

€We need to make sure that those efforts to spur job creation are equally and fairly distributed so that, when the rubber meets the road, we€re all in the car.€

While there was no action plan announced by the leaders after the meeting, Jealous said that the next step would be to meet with members of the Cabinet and both leaders of Congress while Morial said that a greater emphasis should be placed on employment counseling, job creation and direct aid to public employers.

Black leaders meeting with the country€s chief executive has been an effective means of communicating the plight of African Americans historically. During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass and other Black leaders met with President Abraham Lincoln to argue for more Black soldiers in the Union Army and for emancipation of Blacks from slavery throughout the country.

Lincoln responded with an executive order setting up Black troops and the famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the rebelling Confederate states.

President Franklin Roosevelt had a so-called Black Cabinet which met with him on a sporadic basis to discuss civil rights, supporting anti-lynching legislation, Black participation in the New Deal Programs and when World War II was underway, and the role of Black soldiers in the conflict.

President John F. Kennedy had a meeting with Black leaders in the White House in 1963 before the famous March on Washington to make sure that the event was smoothly run and non-violent, which would be the key to getting a Civil Rights bill through Congress.

Since the Kennedy administration, Black leaders have met with presidents with differing end results. During the administrations of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and both Bushes, meeting with Black leaders resulted in initiatives and programs that benefitted African Americans.

However, rarely did Black leaders meet with presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan because they were believed to be hostile to Black concerns.

Morial said that it was good to get the attention of the president and that he now knows that Obama understands the plight of unemployed African Americans.

€The meeting was very positive and the president was engaged and sensitive to the challenges facing the most vulnerable in our society,€ he said.

€We are going to press the Congress to add more targeted provisions to the jobs bill. His [Obama€s] firm leadership over the last year has staved off a greater catastrophe and I have faith he is taking the country in a healing direction.€