From March 10 to 12, 1972, eight thousand African Americans from every region of the United States attended the first National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Organized largely by Michigan congressman Charles C. Diggs, Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, and the writer and activist Amiri Baraka, who chaired the event, the convention sought to unite blacks politically—"unity without uniformity" was the theme—and looked toward the creation of a third political party. Hatcher, who had been elected mayor in 1968, was the keynote speaker. Many delegates had been elected in conventions in their home states. The convention approved a platform that demanded reparations for slavery, proportional congressional representation for blacks, the elimination of capital punishment (which resulted in the execution of a disproportionate number of African Americans), increased federal spending to combat crime and drug trafficking, a reduced military budget, and a guaranteed income of $6,500 (a figure above the then-current poverty level) for a family of four.
After much debate and some walkouts by delegates, the convention also rejected integration as an idea, supporting local control of schools instead, and passed a resolution favoring the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, the convention took no position on any of that year's presidential candidates, including black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was then running for the Democratic nomination. Chisholm had been left out of the convention planning, and believing that many black male leaders did not support her, she did not attend the Gary convention. Roy Wilkins and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) denounced the convention as "openly separatist and nationalist." The mainstream media, which had been barred from the event, were also critical.
"A Black political convention, indeed all truly Black politics, must begin from this truth: The American system does not work for the masses of our people, and it cannot be made to work without radical, fundamental changes."
from the agenda of the first national black political convention, gary, indiana 1972.
The National Black Assembly, not a third political party, emerged from the convention. It met in October 1972 and again in March 1973. A second National Black Political Convention was held in 1974 in Little Rock, Arkansas, with follow-up meetings the next year. Thereafter, interest in further conventions petered out.
Hampton, Henry, and Steve Fayer. Voices of Freedom. New York: Bantam, 1990.
Low, W. Augustus, and Virgil A. Clift, eds. Encyclopedia of Black America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
jeanne theoharis (1996)