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Fletcher, Arthur A.(1924–2005) - Chronology, Begins Political Career, Heads Civil Rights Commission

republican washington black kansas


Born in Phoenix, Arizona on December 22


Organizes his first civil rights protest; receives B.A. from Washburn


Becomes first black player for Baltimore Colts football team; begins political career in Kansas; becomes assistant public relations director, Kansas Highway Commission; becomes vice-chair of Kansas State Republican Central Committee


Moves to California and works for Aerojet-General Corporation in Sacramento


Joins Nixon-Lodge campaign


Makes bid for California State Assembly; chairs advisory committee on civil rights, California Republican Assembly; becomes member of Alameda County Central Committee


Accepts post with the Nanford atomic energy facility, Washington State


Elected to Pasco (Washington) City Council; becomes special assistant to Washington’s governor Daniel J. Evans; becomes assistant secretary of wage and labor standards, Nixon administration


Establishes Affirmative Action Plan


Become executive director of the United Negro College Fund


Serves as president of the consulting firm, Arthur A. Fletcher and Associates


Runs for mayor of Washington, D.C.


Serves as chair of the Civil Rights Commission


Dies in Washington, D.C. on July 12

Begins Political Career

Fletcher began his political career in Kansas in 1954 by working in the area of public relations on Lieutenant Governor Fred Hall’s successful campaign for governor. Hall was a liberal Republican who needed Fletcher to push his candidacy in the black community. The 17,000 votes that Fletcher delivered were said to be enough to ensure Hall’s victory. Hall rewarded him by giving him a post overseeing building and maintenance of the highway system. Thus, Fletcher took his first position in state government (1954–57), as assistant public relations director for the Kansas Highway Commission. There was a boom in highway construction at that time, and Fletcher positioned himself well for the benefits that he reaped for his race. He learned the details of awarding and administering lucrative government contracts and in so doing, he encouraged African American business leaders to bid for the contracts. In his view, this action was the cornerstone for aiding minorities. Some local white business leaders attacked him for working to steer highway contracts to minorities. He was legislative liaison officer and chaired a commission on racial problems which, again, gave him an opportunity to help address racial needs. He also worked for the Kansas State Republican Central Committee as vice-chairman from 1954 to 1956. Although in the 1950s blacks in Kansas were predominantly Democratic, Fletcher was a Republican who began to fight for better opportunities for blacks. He instituted policies that Republican administrations followed.

In Kansas, Fletcher became a staunch defender of education and demonstrated a keen interest in school desegregation. While waiting for his reward from Hall, Fletcher taught in a rural elementary school and was appalled by the gross inadequacies in the black schools. With his own funds, he helped to finance the lawsuit against Topeka’s Board of Education, the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education , which aimed to desegregate the public schools in Topeka.

After Hall lost his bid for reelection in the 1956 primaries, the administration that followed abolished Fletcher’s post. To support himself and his family, Fletcher opened a used-car business in Topeka. Some claim that his involvement in the school desegregation case led city officials who disagreed with his actions to force him out of business. The determined Fletcher moved on to become assistant football coach at his alma mater, Washburn University. The appointment made him the university’s first black staff member and in the national view, the first black in the country to coach at a predominantly white academic institution.

Fletcher and his family followed Fred Hall to Sacramento, California, in late 1958. There Fletcher became management control coordinator for Aerojet-General Corporation and lived in a white neighborhood. Racial prejudice was alive and well in his neighborhood, as rocks were thrown into the family’s home. The family relocated to Berkeley where Fletcher worked for an Oakland tire company and for a while opened an unsuccessful restaurant business. This was a critical period in the Fletcher family’s life, and in 1960 tragedy hit hard. The family had been denied a rental house in Berkeley’s white section and continuing racial problems, combined with continuing economic pressures, took their toll, and Fletcher’s wife, Mary, committed suicide.

In 1960 as well, the struggling Fletcher became involved in politics again, this time as a paid staff member for the Nixon-Lodge campaign. His task was to “Republicanize” the East Bay Area’s strong concentration of blacks who comprised the Democratic Seventeenth Assembly District. The Republican candidate’s bid for Congress in the election failed by a wide margin, but Fletcher demonstrated in his work that he had tremendous influence and organizational skills. He had built a Republican organization of some two hundred volunteers. Still interested in education, between 1960 and 1965 he taught at Burbank Junior High School located in Berkeley. His interest in school integration continued as well, for he became a special project director for Berkeley’s board of education and helped desegregate the local school system. He continued his political activities, running for the state assembly in 1962. His two-to-one-margin loss did not discourage him; he had put up a good fight for the Republicans. Fletcher remained active in politics as well as in civil rights activities. He was a member of the Alameda County Republican Central Committee from 1962 to 1964 and chaired the advisory commission on civil rights for the California Republican Assembly (1962–64). He did postgraduate work at San Francisco State College in 1964–65.

In 1967 Fletcher moved to the state of Washington, where he directed a federally funded manpower development program in East Pasco. The program addressed hard-core, semi-literate black migrants from the South, who lived on the outskirts of that small town in the southeastern part of the state. Although the program failed due to difficulties with local welfare officials, Fletcher had trained 380 men. After that, he established on his own initiative, the East Pasco Self-Help Cooperative, an urban renewal project. Again he entered the political arena and was elected overwhelmingly to the Pasco city council, serving from 1968 to 1969. He was employee relations specialist for the Nanford atomic energy facility in Richmond, Washington in 1967. He remained connected to politics and in 1968–69 he was a special assistant to Washington governor Daniel J. Evans. Around this time as well, he was alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. Meanwhile, Fletcher’s community help program in East Pasco caught the eye of the national Republican party and brought him an invitation to address the party’s platform committee in 1968. His self-help program became the basis for the “black capitalism” program that the Republican National Convention endorsed that summer at its convention in Miami. Meanwhile, he moved forward with political activities, becoming the first black nominee for statewide office in Washington. Although he lost the election by only a few thousand votes, he had fared well in a state whose population was only 2 percent black.

Now an attractive figure in his party, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Fletcher his assistant secretary for wage and labor standards in the Department of Labor, on March 14, 1969. As the highest-ranking black in Nixon’s administration, Fletcher and his career were on the national stage. He also had far-reaching power, overseeing the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the Bureau of Labor Standards, the Women’s Bureau, the Wage and Hour and Public Contract Division, the Bureau of Employee’s Compensation, and the Office of Wage Determinations. He took a hard look at economic security for blacks and concentrated on using federal power to bring about equal employment opportunities. The Office of Federal Contracts Compliance (OFCC), established during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, was the vehicle for carrying this task. He reorganized the OFCC and set up a compliance review system that required firms receiving federal contracts to give monthly reports.

Heads Civil Rights Commission

In 1978, Fletcher took another unsuccessful stab at political office by becoming the Republican candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C., challenging Marion Barry. He did so even with full knowledge that there were few registered Republican voters in the city.

His big chance at effecting change in civil rights came in 1990, when President Bush appointed him chair of the Civil Rights Commission, a post he held until 1993. He endorsed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 as well as the nomination of Clarence Thomas, who became the second black ever on the U.S. Supreme Court (Thurgood Marshall was the first). He was persuaded that Thomas benefited from Brown v. Board of Education as well as from affirmative action—and knew it. Thomas was “fortunate enough to ride them both all the way to the top,” he told the Boston Globe , cited in the Washington Post .

Fletcher never lost his zeal for equal economic opportunity. By 2003, he owned and managed Fletcher’s Learning System, Inc. The firm created, produced, and marketed books, training manuals, and audio and videotapes to assist companies that sought to meet governmental laws, statutes, and guidelines for maintaining equal business opportunities for minorities. Fletcher took the program to national and international audiences. He was practically a constant presidential adviser, giving support to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Although he was a staunch Republican, the outspoken Fletcher admonished Reagan and Bush for failing to support civil rights. Reports on Fletcher’s opinions of those Republican presidents and their support of civil rights are conflicting. He denied that the Nixon administration was racially biased and claimed, if that were true, he would not have kept his post. He would not defend every action that the administration took, though. According to the Washington Post , he called Reagan “the worst president for civil rights in this century.” When he headed the Civil Rights Commission, he was highly critical of Bush for “labeling civil rights legislation as a quota bill.”

Late in life, Fletcher became an advocate of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. He belonged to various professional and civic groups, including the NAACP, and the American Legion. His numerous awards included the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge (1969), the Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (1970), and the Living Legend Award from the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, Inc. (1995). He received honorary degrees from Allegheny and Malcolm X colleges, and Washburn, Virginia Union, and Denver universities.

Fletcher was six feet four inches tall and immensely popular, humorous, and creative. He was a devout Methodist who each morning read his favorite passages from the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible. Fletcher died of a heart attack at his home in Washington, D.C. on July 12, 2005, at the age of eighty. (Some sources claim, however, that he died at George Washington University Hospital in Washington.) His first wife, Mary Fletcher, died in 1961. His son Arthur Jr. died in 1973, and another son, Phillip, died in 1989. A daughter, Phyllis Hatcher, died in 1990. He was survived his second wife Bernyce Hassan-Fletcher, whom he married on May 5, 1965; a son, Paul; a daughter Sylvia; and a host of grand-and great-grandchildren. An NAACP article called him “a friend and mentor to those in both political parties who believed in civil rights.” Joe Holly for the Washington Post hailed him as “a maverick Republican who proudly laid claim to the title ‘the father of affirmative action.’”

Fletcher, Benjamin(1890–1949) - Labor activist, From Laborer to Longshoreman to Activist, Helps to Found Multiracial Labor Group, Chronology [next] [back] Fletcher, Alice (Cunningham)

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