Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Pendleton, Clarence M., Jr.(1930–1988) - Politician, Chronology

Heads U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

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Pendleton’s endorsement of Reagan’s presidential campaign brought him to national attention. In 1981, President Reagan appointed Pendleton to replace Arthur S. Fleming, whom Reagan had fired for defending civil rights initiatives that the Reagan administration wanted to reduce or eliminate. During confirmations hearings, NAACP leaders testified against Pendleton’s confirmation. Colleagues from the Urban League also testified against Pendleton. Pendleton’s backing of the location of the San Diego veterans’ hospital was brought up as well as questions about his political views and taxes. In the end, Pendleton was approved by Congress and assumed the chairmanship in 1982.

Some say that Pendleton’s appointment was a means by which Reagan attempted to pacify critics who felt his administration was insensitive to minority concerns and that Reagan was trying to reverse hard-won civil rights progress. Regardless of Reagan’s motives, Pendleton was firm in his stance against affirmative action, hiring quotas, comparable worth, and school busing to end segregation. Pendleton’s number one priority was to investigate instances of reverse discrimination. In a 1985 speech Pendleton said he wanted the commission to spearhead the effort to achieve “a color-blind society that has opportunities for all and guarantees for none.” He believed affirmative action was a “bankrupt policy” which did not allow people to succeed on their own merits. He felt hiring quotas caused minorities entering the workforce to think they did not have to acquire the skills necessary to fairly compete against others in the same arena. Pendleton opposed busing because it defeated the purpose of neighborhood schools. He also felt no one had the right to say white schools were better than black schools.

The political situation at the Civil Rights Commission quickly heated up. Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan wrote that Pendleton had single-handedly turned the commission into one of the most anti-civil rights units in federal government. According to Rowan, “If Congress wants to show President Reagan that it is sincere about reducing spending and the federal deficit, it might vote swiftly to abolish the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Under the leadership of Clarence Pendleton, the Civil Rights Commission has become an arrogant enemy of the most abused, most miserable, most helpless people in the land. Pendleton, his deputy Morris Abrams, and a majority of the commission are waging war on the civil rights movement.”

The Reagan administration sought to strengthen Pendleton by unilaterally replacing the three democratic commissioners with three Reagan appointees. The commission members would serve fixed terms, and Pendleton was appointed the chair for six years. One of the first things the committee did in January 1984, under Pendleton’s leadership, was to vote five to three to cancel a study on the effects of budget cuts on primarily minority colleges. The five committee members argued that budget cuts were not innately discriminatory thus outside the scope of the commission. This action was quickly followed by the approval of a study of the problems caused for people of southern or eastern European descent by affirmative action. The Commission’s next step was to denounce the use of quotas by the Detroit police department to increase the number of promotions by black police officers.

In 1985 on Face the Nation , Pendleton said there was going to be an order signed eliminating preferential treatment and that the imbalance in the workforce would not be blamed on discrimination. Speaking at Cornell University that year, Pendleton stated that the Civil Rights Commission should be dismantled in 1989 when it came before Congress for reauthorization. When the Reagan administration failed to back Pendleton’s comments, Pendleton told Reagan to stop talking one way and acting another.

Pendleton’s biggest problem arose because of the minority set-aside programs. Designed to give minority business owners the opportunity to compete for government contracts, the minority set-aside programs had been riddled with corruption since their inception in 1968. Some of the problems concerned white-owned companies employing blacks as fronts to get contracts; actual minority firms winning the contracts then subcontracting them out to white-owned businesses; and contracts going to minority businesses which were already successful rather than those minority businesses which would truly have benefited from the contracts. Pendleton felt there was little evidence that the set-asides helped to create legitimate minority business.

Pendleton was accused of being a hypocrite for opposing set-asides based on the fact that when he worked at the Urban League, he advised minority-owned businesses how to take advantage of Small Business Administration loans. Still others asked how Pendleton could go from believing in federal funding of social assistance programs to abandoning government support of the private sector. Pendleton’s stance on set-aside programs so incensed blacks in Congress that twenty-eight black Republicans called for his resignation as chairman of the Civil Rights Commission.

While Pendleton was a staunch backer of the Reagan administration, he still had conflicts with it. For example, he was openly against the tax exemptions given to racially discriminatory private schools and criticized the slowness of the Reagan administration’s endorsement of the Voting Rights Act.

Not all the changes Pendleton made at the Civil Rights Commission were looked on negatively. Pendleton increased the speed of the commission meetings, thus cutting back on some of the pontificating for which the commissioners were famous. Pendleton valued efficiency. Following the Reagan administration rule of budget trimming, Pendleton asked that the commission’s budget be reduced. Pendleton closed two regional offices and trimmed the level of responsibility of the commission’s state advisory committees.

The final straw for Pendleton came in 1987 when an audit of the Civil Rights Commission’s records from October 1982 to January 1986 showed discrepancies in hiring practices, travel expenses, and record keeping. The commission was unable to account for $175,000 of its budget. It was also discovered that Pendleton had billed $70,000 in salary to a position which was traditionally part time. Ultimately, Congress cut the commission’s budget from $11.6 million to $7.5 million. Ironically, when the budget cuts were made and were followed by recommendations to dismantle the Civil Rights Commission, Pendleton resigned.

During his tenure with the Civil Rights Commission, Pendleton continued to work in San Diego commuting to Washington, D.C. for commission meetings. He remained chairman of San Diego Transit and president of Pendleton and Associates, a business development and investment firm. Pendleton was also a trustee for the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation and served on the board of the Greater American Federal Savings and Loan Association. He continued as chairman and president of the San Diego Local Development Corporation.

Following his resignation in 1987, Pendleton returned to his home in La Jolla, California. Thanks to his many business interests in San Diego there was much to keep him busy. Pendleton died of a heart attack while exercising at a health club on June 5, 1988; he was fifty-seven years old. He was survived by his wife, Margrit; a son and two daughters.

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