is unwilling to march under the GOP banner. But he does like some programs promoted by conservatives. His church will receive a three-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to educate thousands of young people on sexual abstinence. In May, he attended the Republican-sponsored African American Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., but says, “When I got home, I saw the enactment of a program of tax breaks that benefit the rich. I could not get up in front of my congregation and say, ‘I’m a Republican and this is the way we should go as a community.’”
Tolbert, who is president of the Coalition of Concerned Clergy of Kansas City, an organization that includes 300 pastors from 18 religious organizations, says, “These tax cuts will miss grassroots African Americans, the average wage earner, the two-income family” — families like most of the 1,700 members of Tolbert’s church. “When you’re elected president, you’re elected to serve all the people,” says Tolbert, who says he might feel differently if Bush’s policies were more balanced and less tilted toward the wealthy.
If the positions of Parker and Tolbert on the Republican Party are any indication, the chances of the GOP recruiting large numbers of African Americans into its ranks are not good. Large numbers may not be necessary. “If the GOP could just consistently get 20% or
more of the black vote, distributed among key states and congressional districts, it would stand a chance to be the majority party for the foreseeable future,” says Smith.
This might benefit black America generally because the two parties would work harder to gain black support. But Smith says the way for the GOP to achieve that 20% solution is to take greater steps toward addressing major African American concerns — something the party so far has shown little willingness to do.