Alabama Blacks See Political Role Fading

Times Staff Writer

Alabama blacks, angered by Republican Gov. Guy Hunt's failure to name blacks to high-profile administration posts and by their perception that white Democratic legislative leaders are excluding blacks from choice committee assignments, plan a protest march on the state Capitol in Montgomery on Saturday.

Joe Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference, one of the state's most powerful black political organizations, said that the march is designed to dramatize concerns among Alabama blacks that "the clock is being turned back" on their hard-won political gains.

"What's happening in Alabama is part of a whole national atmosphere of conservatism and retrogression in racial matters," Reed charged. "We're not going to sit idly by and watch such rampant racism take its course here."

'Systematic Exclusion'

At least four black legislators--two senators and two House members--have already resigned their committee appointments in disgust at what they view as "the systematic exclusion of blacks from meaningful leadership positions in the Legislature."

"This is a serious setback for us," said state Rep. John L. Buskey of Montgomery, one of the four legislators. "If this new regime continues, we are not going to have any input into the legislative process and, therefore, we won't be able to represent our constituency--and blacks make up more than a fourth of the state's population."

Buskey predicted that more than 2,000 blacks from across the state would take part in the march Saturday.

The uproar among Alabama blacks occurs at a time when the state's politics are undergoing a transition from more than two decades of dominance by former Democratic Gov. George C. Wallace. T1751741216Republican governor in more than a century, and the Legislature--although still overwhelmingly Democratic--has taken on a decidedly more conservative cast.

Gave Governor Few Votes

Although blacks gave Hunt few votes in last November's gubernatorial election, they were encouraged by the GOP governor's inaugural pledges last month to heal racial wounds and run a "colorblind" administration.

But, so far, blacks have been appointed to only four posts in the new administration: the commissioner on aging, a low-profile cabinet post; the administrative assistant to the governor on minority affairs, and two seats in the state's economic development agency.

By comparison, about 15% of the more than 3,400 appointments Wallace made in his final term in office went to blacks. "A lot of people are beginning to miss old George Wallace terribly," said Delores Pickett, former executive assistant to Wallace for minority affairs.

In the Legislature, the number of blacks on the four most powerful House committees--Ways and Means, Rules, Judiciary and State Administration--has been cut by half, and no black holds a committee chairmanship.

In the Senate, where five of the 35 members are black, a black is chairman of the influential Finance and Taxation Committee, but blacks hold no other key posts.

The governor's office denies the charges of racism.

"The governor has been appointing blacks," Terry Abbott, the governor's press secretary, said. "And he fully intends to give more jobs to blacks as we go along."

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Black state Rep. Alvin Holmes charges that, in a meeting between House Speaker Jimmy Clark and black legislators, the new Speaker "treated us just like we were dogs."

"He said that all we wanted to do was come up here and eat peanuts and drink soda water like we were down on the plantation and tote money off to black colleges that turn out inferior students."

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