WASHINGTON – Delroy Cornick got a flyer in the mail from the National Black Conservative Unity Summit requesting his participation.
“I cringed a little bit when I saw `black conservative’ because it conjures up images of Clarence Thomas,” Cornick said, referring to the black Supreme Court justice who opposes affirmative action.
“I have a problem being dubbed conservative right off the bat just because I’m Republican. Colin Powell, is he a conservative?” asked the former professor at Morgan State University. He said he identifies with Powell, a black Republican and retired general known for his pro-choice, pro-affirmative action views.
Cornick, 79, illustrates the problem organizers for the May 24 summit in Washington face in convincing blacks that conservatism – especially black conservatism – is not synonymous with rhetoric against affirmative action and welfare mothers.
Despite his reservations about labels, Cornick said he expects to attend. Organizers, who include black Republicans and religious leaders, say they hope hundreds of blacks from all over the country will come to talk about the meaning of conservativism to the black community.
“We don’t make the kind of gross generalizations about the white population as are made about blacks,” said Michael Steele, who is black and heads the Prince George’s County Republican Party.
“There is a respect for diversity [of opinion] in the white community.” The same should apply to the black community, Steele said.
Raynard Jackson, who founded the Americans for a Brighter Future, a conservative political action committee aimed at developing black Republican candidates, said he hopes the summit will give minorities “road signs” pointing toward the Republican Party.
Organizers also will attempt to “demystify” the term “black conservatism” by drawing parallels between it and the role churches play in unifying black communities.
This connection, organizers said, will help blacks recognize their views as traditional and in line with the Republican Party.
In 1996, 84 percent of blacks voted for Democratic President Clinton, according to the New York-based Voter News Service, which does nationwide exit polling. In Maryland, where blacks made up 19 percent of the vote, 93 percent voted for Clinton.
But in national congressional races, numbers suggest a shift in party loyalty my be occurring.
In 1992, according to the news service, 11 percent of blacks voted for Republican congressional candidates. In 1996 that number jumped to 18 percent.
Democratic Maryland Rep. Albert Wynn of Largo said blacks are traditionally and inherently conservative because of the strong role of the church.
But Wynn said most blacks are Democrats because the Republican Party lacks compassion for the needy and has a racist history, particularly through the civil rights battles of the 1960s.
“Republicans would like to reach out to the black community but they’re reaching out with empty hands,” Wynn said.
But Cornick, president of the Howard County African American Republican Club, said he is already seeing some gains by the party among blacks. He said 10-15 percent of blacks registered to vote in the county are Republicans. And even though his fledgling club is small, with roughly 40 members, he said he expects it to grow. -30-