Jewish World Review July 8, 2003 / 8 Tamuz, 5763

Stanley Crouch

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Prez is making inroads with blacks | At a White House event entitled Harlem's Song, President Bush declared June Black Music Month and gave a speech that was a further indication of what could amount to a grand strategy. I mean a strategy that could make Democrats a bit unsure about owning the black vote, especially during presidential elections.

I was there because I had been invited to make some remarks before the performers came on stage. The audience then heard the All-Stars of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem under the leadership of Loren Schoenberg, the executive director of the museum and a highly respected saxophonist and bandleader. It also heard three selections from George Wolfe's "Harlem Song," a show that ran for six months at the Apollo Theatre and drew such integrated audiences that you could say downtown and uptown become one town.

The performances on Tuesday were splendid and the audience, which included national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Powell, truly seemed to enjoy itself.

At the conclusion of the program, the President gave his brief speech, which was very pointed in its acknowledgment not only of the importance of black Americans to our nation's music, but of the history those Americans have had to live in the worst times of our nation.

Bush surprised many when he said, "From the earliest generations of slaves came music of sorrow and patience, of truth and righteousness and of faith that shamed their oppressors and called upon the justice of Almighty G-d and praised His holy name."

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At one point, he said that when "Franklin Roosevelt wanted to show the king and queen of England the finest music in America, he brought them to this room to hear Marian Anderson sing 'Ave Maria.'"

If this event was indeed part of a grand strategy, Bush seems well on his way to redirecting the ethnic tone of the Republican Party in a way that may not automatically make black people feel friendly toward it but that could, over time, bring issues of importance to Afro-Americans to the front and put party affiliations in the back.

I thought about all of that walking around the White House as the rehearsals were going on. Integration was everywhere. It felt good to see the military personnel and all the guests representing the many faces of the nation just as much as they did under President Bill Clinton.

Further, with Bush's emphasis on educational policy, with his appointments of Rice and Powell, with his pledge to refurbish Frederick Douglass' home, with his $15 billion relief package for black Africa and with his recent admonishment that federal law enforcement agencies should not profile any ethnic community unless the issue of terrorism is at hand, this President is changing his party.

Were Bush to go further and make it clear that federal assistance will be made available to all communities bent upon removing the anarchic thugs who, to cite one example, have been responsible for the killing of 10,000 people in Los Angeles over the last 20 years, many would have to stand up.

That would be a policy coup that neither the civil rights establishment nor the Democrats - or black Americans - could easily dismiss.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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