It is “critical” that the Congressional Black Caucus remain an all-black organization, one of the CBC’s founders has said in a strategy memo.
“The CBC welcomes support from others in the House and Senate, especially those with liberal credentials, but it is critical that its membership remain exclusively African American,” retired Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr. wrote earlier this year to the CBC.
Mr. Clay’s letter—distributed by his son, Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., Missouri Democrat—prompted a CBC meeting before the August recess.
“The members have discussed it, and we supported the tradition that only African-Americans have been full members of the CBC, but as always we will work with anyone as our coalition partners and some have become honorary members,” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat, who has been all but confirmed as the caucus’ chairman for the 110th Congress.
The Clay letter was written in response to concerns that two Jewish congressional candidates, Tennessee state Rep. Steve Cohen and New York City Councilman David Yassky, both Democrats, would apply for CBC membership if elected from majority-black districts.
Neither candidate has announced plans to seek CBC membership, and some caucus members were skeptical of suggestions they would, with one CBC member saying that such talk might be “political ploys to bolster their image with the black constituency they are seeking to represent.”
In his letter, Mr. Clay said the CBC would work with whites, Asians and Pacific islanders, Hispanics, Democrats, and Republicans to move legislation that furthers its agenda, but only blacks can be official voting members.
Mr. Clay recalled that Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, attempted to join the organization in 1975. “Although Stark was sincere, intentions honest and honorable and record on civil rights impeccable, after thoughtfully and thoroughly examining the issue, a formal vote was taken that rejected his application,” Mr. Clay wrote.
The issue of white politicians attempting to join black political groups came up most recently last year in Tennessee when state Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Republican from Knoxville, attempted to join the Tennessee Black Caucus. After his application was rejected, Mr. Campfield angered black lawmakers by saying the group’s bylaws were more exclusionary than the Ku Klux Klan.
In the past, the Congressional Black Caucus has been criticized by some black Republicans. Former Rep. Gary A. Franks, Connecticut Republican, was nearly ousted from the group for opposing the creation of majority-minority districts. The CBC’s chairman at the time, Kweisi Mfume—the Maryland Democrat who is currently running for Senate—intervened and made it clear that the group was bipartisan.