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Hatcher, Andrew T.(1923–1990) - Presidential aide, press secretary, Pursues Careers in Journalism and Politics, Represents Kennedy Administration, Chronology

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The varied communications career of Andrew Hatcher took him from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again and led to his history-making appointment in 1960 as the first African American associate press secretary to the president of the United States. His service during the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson made him a participant in, as well as eyewitness to, the internal operations of the executive branch of government during a decade of great changes and upheavals in America and the world.

Andrew T. Hatcher was born on June 19, 1923 in Princeton, New Jersey. As a youngster he attended the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, an educational institution founded by Betsy Stockton, a former slave, as early as 1830 in connection with the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church. The school and church were located in the section of Princeton nicknamed African Lane for its concentration of black residents.

Hatcher went on to Princeton High School, where he graduated in 1941. He continued his education at Springfield College in Massachusetts, beginning in September 1941. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 brought the United States into World War II, Hatcher interrupted his college studies to join the U.S. Army in November 1943. During most of the war years Hatcher was stationed at Camp Lee, Virginia, where he received basic and branch training. He also participated in the Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Camp Lee and was eventually promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. Hatcher also served at the Oakland Army Base in northern California and remained there until he received his honorable discharge in June 1946 after nearly three years of active duty.

Hatcher returned to Springfield College in September 1946 and was noted in the school’s 1947 yearbook as the editor of The Student , the college newspaper. As a former soldier and military officer who was a few years older than the typical college student, Hatcher was a “non-traditional student” as well as a member of a racial minority on campus. It is unclear if Hatcher graduated from Springfield, but sources indicate that in later years he served as a member of the college’s alumni council.

Pursues Careers in Journalism and Politics

Hatcher made the decision to return to the northern California area and became a journalist for the San Francisco Sun-Reporter , an African American newspaper. He also attended the Golden Gate Law School between 1952 and 1954, but it is unclear whether he received a degree, as available sources do not indicate that Hatcher ever actively pursued the practice of law.

Hatcher soon made the transition from journalism to politics and became actively involved with the Democratic Party. As a result, he received a political appointment in 1959 as assistant secretary of labor in the administration of California governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. Hatcher’s abilities did not go unnoticed by other leading Democrats, and he became a speechwriter for New York governor Adlai Stevenson during his two unsuccessful campaigns for president during the 1950s.

Along with his close friend Pierre Salinger, Hatcher joined the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 as a speechwriter and member of the campaign press staff. By this time Hatcher was a veteran of the campaign trail and helped considerably with the numerous details and logistics involved in presentations by the candidate around the country. His presence on the team also helped Kennedy in his efforts to appeal to African American voters in particular, whose support provided the margin of victory over vice president Richard M. Nixon in the closely contested election.

One of Kennedy’s first appointments after winning the presidency was his selection of Hatcher as White House associate press secretary on November 10, 1960. Salinger had been appointed to the President’s cabinet as press secretary, so the two friends and colleagues were able to continue to work as a team during the Kennedy administration.

Hatcher was the first African American to serve in such a high-ranking position, being involved in the inner workings of the executive branch on a daily basis. The symbolic importance of this achievement was underscored when television cameras showed only Salinger and Hatcher seated behind the president during his first news conference after taking office in January 1961.

Represents Kennedy Administration

Among the many issues and concerns faced by the Kennedy administration were the testing of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union and the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba in 1961, the Cuban missile crisis, civil rights demonstrations and the desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962, and responses to the March on Washington and the Birmingham church bombing in 1963. Hatcher was directly involved in briefing the national and international media on the president’s policies, decisions, actions, and other activities, and conducted news conferences and press briefings in place of Salinger as necessary.

The job responsibilities also involved extensive national and international travel with the president and other government officials, as well as coordinating schedules and logistics for public appearances, interviews, and media updates. On several occasions, Hatcher even accompanied the president on holidays in order to accommodate the constant press coverage of the charismatic Kennedy and his family.

Chronology

1923

Born in Princeton, New Jersey on June 19

1941

Graduates from Princeton High School; enters Springfield College

1943

Joins United States Army in November

1946

Receives honorable discharge from Army as second lieutenant in June; returns to Springfield College in September

1952

Attends Golden Gate Law School after relocating to California

1959

Becomes California assistant secretary of labor

1960

Receives appointment as associate White House press secretary

1963

Helps to found One Hundred Black Men organization

1964

Resigns from White House after presidential assassination and transition

1977

Confronts criticism as public relations executive doing business with South Africa

1990

Dies on July 26; interred in Suffolk County, New York

Hatcher endured criticism and skepticism from some quarters regarding his qualifications and expertise for such a high-level position. It was assumed that Hatcher   was not as knowledgeable about international and domestic issues beyond civil rights, which placed him in the position of proving his capabilities on a regular basis. Any mistakes he made were magnified because of his status as the first African American in his position, yet Hatcher realized that this was part of the job and continued his work.

Black leaders also confronted Hatcher regarding civil rights policies and initiatives and the speed with which they were being implemented by the Kennedy administration. While he was sensitive to their concerns, Hatcher remained focused on representing the views and actions of the White House on these and other issues in a fair and objective manner.

Hatcher also managed to balance his professional responsibilities with being a husband and father of seven children. When First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy set up the first White House kindergarten for the children of employees in the executive branch, Hatcher’s son Avery, who was the same age as Caroline Kennedy, was included in the class. This discreet yet symbolic gesture in support of civil rights for African Americans was not openly publicized by the Kennedy administration for its political and public relations benefits, but it was acknowledged when it became a news item.

The presence of Hatcher on the White House press staff also increased access for African American journalists and newspaper organizations, which in past years had not been given the same opportunities as mainstream media. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which represented editors and publishers of African American newspapers from around the country, presented Hatcher with an award in 1961. The Capital Press Club (CPC), an organization of black journalists in Washington, showed their appreciation by awarding President Kennedy, Hatcher, and Salinger honorary CPC memberships. Hatcher was on his way to Paris, France at the time of the presentation, and President Kennedy accepted their awards while hosting the group at the White House.

Hatcher also became a member of the National Press Club, in no small part due to his high-level position and profile as part of the Kennedy administration. In addition, sources indicate that Hatcher was a member of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and received an honorary doctorate from Miles College in 1962.

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