The History of the American Association of Blacks in Energy
Original Written by Rufus W. McKinney – May, 1994 Bethesda, MD
Edited by Robert L. Hill – August 1998 Washington, DC
The decade of the 1970’s is likely to be remembered as the period in America’s post World War II history when the nation actually confronted, for the first time, the reality of its vulnerability at the hands of a group of very small countries that were utterly without military power. The tremendous economic growth that occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s had been fueled in large part by cheap and easily available energy supplies, from both domestic and foreign sources.
Seemingly overnight, America awakened to rapidly escalating prices for oil and natural gas. This, coupled with an abrupt shortage of these commodities, disrupted the entire U.S. economy. It was in the context of these growing concerns, and how the U.S. government undertook to respond to this energy crisis, that AABE came into being.
The idea of AABE was conceived in the mind of Clarke A. Watson of Denver, Colorado sometime in the spring of 1977. Mr. Watson owned an energy-consulting firm in Denver, Watson Associates, a division of Westland Companies. Watson was a bright, ambitious young man with big ideas, an engaging manner and contacts at high levels in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League. He was acquainted also with a few local and nationally known Black elected officials. Many oil and gas producers were very active in the RockyMountain area in the early 1970’s in pursuit of various projects to develop new energy resources to alleviate perceived shortages of oil and natural gas supplies. Watson and his consulting firm had several oil and gas companies as clients; advising them on public relations matters.
The winter that followed the election of Jimmy Carter in November 1976 was one of the coldest on record. Carter took office in January 1977 amidst a heightened crisis atmosphere and widespread anxiety about what policies he would install to deal with the energy crisis. His predecessors, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, had instituted a series of organizational changes within the Executive branch in an attempt to deal with the energy problem. Ford established a position on the White House staff to coordinate the many functions related to energy that were scattered among several federal departments and agencies. Later, Congress created the Federal Energy Administration to coordinate federal energy policy; and the Energy Research and Development Administration, to foster and fund energy research and development efforts.
The Department of Energy Organization Act was finally enacted in the summer of 1977 and became effective on October 1 of that year. This was the culmination of initial efforts by the Carter administration to organize itself to address the energy crisis. Shortly after taking office, Carter established a special task force to study the energy problem and develop recommendations. Conspicuously absent from the task force were persons of color representing the interests to blacks and other minorities. The task force also had few, if any, persons with experience in any of the major energy sectors. Heavily represented were academic types, environmentalists, conservationists, and other advocates of alternatives to conventional fuels.
The makeup of the Carter energy task force was a major source of concern among a small group of Blacks, most of whom worked for energy companies. There was the fear that the task force’s recommendations would reflect the somewhat elitist attitude common among environmentalists and militant alternative fuels advocates. Blacks and other minorities were not well represented in the membership of these groups and they tended to oppose most programs and policies to promote economic growth and resource development. Watson believed there was a strong correlation between energy resource development, economic growth, and expanding opportunities for disadvantaged minorities to participate more fully in theU.S. economic system.
Watson called for a meeting of a core group of Blacks concerned about energy matters on July 25 and 26, 1977, at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Among those present at that meeting with Watson were J.J. Simmons (Amerada Hess); Rufus McKinney (Southern California Gas Co.); Robert Bates (Mobile Oil); Thomas Hart (Westinghouse); Larry Young (Maryland Legislature); Linda Taliaferro (Westinghouse); Mark Hyman (Public Relation Consultant); Lenneal Henderson (Howard University); Will Carter (Chevron); T.J. White (Phillips Petroleum); Wayne Smith (Colorado Public Service Co.); John Tucker (American Gas Association); and John Lewis, Editor and Publisher of “Black Affairs,” a Washington bi-weekly newsletter.
This meeting provided the first opportunity for many of the participants to meet each other. However, some had heard about Clarke Watson because his critical comments about the administration’s approach to the energy problem had found their way into several newspaper stories. Jake Simmons, too, was fairly well known in energy circles because of his pioneering role as a high-level official at the Department of Interior’s Office of Oil and Gas during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. John Tucker had the distinction of being the first Black officer of the American Gas Association. Rufus McKinney had been elected a vice president of Southern California Gas Company in 1975, after becoming the first Black lobbyist to head the Washington office of a Fortune 500 company back in 1972. Tom Hart had joined Westinghouse after a distinguished career as a track and field coach at Howard University and the Ghana Olympic team in 1964. Bob Bates had joined the Washington office of Mobil Oil Company after having worked several years as a key legislative assistant to Senator Edward Kennedy. Will Carter held a Ph.D. in chemistry and worked at a Chevron refinery in northern California. Linda Taliaferro held a law degree from Boston University and served as a member of the Advanced Reactors Division at Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Although there was no formal agenda, it was clear from the outset that Watson knew what he wanted the group to accomplish at this first meeting. He wanted to create a structure or mechanism by which Blacks who had some knowledge and understanding of the U.S. energy situation could bring their thinking to bear on energy policy-making. He wanted to call to the administration’s attention that it could ill afford to ignore the need for Black participation in every aspect of the policy-making process. Another idea running through the meeting was the desire to have the relatively new Democratic administration appoint Blacks to high-level, non-traditional roles in government. In other words, jobs outside of HEW, HUD, EEOC and civil rights. There also was the recognition that energy issues, per se, had not been a priority on the agenda of most Black political, civil rights, fraternal and social organizations. The thought was that someone needed to put this issue on the agenda of these groups because energy was so central to economic growth and job creation; the avenues for greater Black participation in the mainstream of the U.S. economy.
A consensus was reached fairly quickly to form a new organization, and that it would be called THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN ENERGY, with the acronym, AABE. Clarke Watson was chosen to chair the organization by acclamation. Larry Young was selected First Vice Chair and Rufus McKinney, Second Vice Chair. It was agreed thatDenver, Colorado would be the initial headquarters. Watson was charged to arrange for AABE’s incorporation in the State ofColorado. For purposes of incorporation the initial directors selected were Clarke Watson, Larry Young, Linda Taliaferro, Thomas Hart and Rufus McKinney. It was agreed that dues would be set at $25.00 annually. Persons present at the organizational meeting generously contributed to a fund to cover start-up expenses. Watson was also selected to lead the development of draft bylaws that would describe member-ship criteria and other governing matters. A follow-up meeting was scheduled in Washington for September 23, 1977 to coincide with the annual meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus. AABE was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of Colorado on December 1, 1977.