Black History Month – The National Black Political Convention at Robinson Center in 1974

Chicago Tribune photo

Chicago Tribune photo

In March 1974, Little Rock hosted the second National Black Political Convention at the Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and Camelot Hotel (now a Doubletree Hotel). The first convention was held in Gary, Indiana, in 1972, and garnered much publicity, producing a National Black Political Agenda that included demands for the election of a proportionate number of black representatives to Congress, community control of schools, and national health insurance.

There were approximately 1,700 delegates from 31 states at the Convention.

The Little Rock convention was co-convened by Congressman Charles Diggs of Detroit, Michigan; Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Indiana; and poet Amiri Baraka. Plenary speakers included Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Jesse Jackson was also in town for the convention. The convention featured a testimonial and tribute to local civil rights leader Daisy Bates at Central High School.

The 1972 convention had called for African Americans to form their own party separate from the Democrats and Republicans.  Two years later, few elected leaders came to Little Rock.  As leaders of established political parties started to embrace African Americans, many seemed to find it more advantageous to participate within the party framework.

Some of the delegates to Little Rock expressed frustration.  They were not there, they told the press, to listen to speeches.  They were there to take actions.  Over 200 resolutions were submitted, which were difficult for the body to consider.

It was ironic that Daisy Bates was honored. While many in the convention were espousing the Black Separatist movement, Mrs. Bates spent her career focused on integration.  A series of articles in the Chicago Tribune discussed the challenges of the conventions many different viewpoints.  Another challenge the convention faced was financial.  The organizers refused to accept funds from white-owned companies or foundations. And there simply were not many African American owned funding sources which existed, let alone were interested in funding it.

Nonetheless, the Convention left its mark on attendees.  And it did showcase that Little Rock had made progress since 1957.