ART FLETCHER:AFRICAN AMERICAN WARRIOR WHO FOUGHT FOR AND AGAINST THE GOP FOR CHANGE
By Dennis Day
Art Fletcher was a stand-up guy who gained considerable political influence in and out-side the Beltway of the nation’s capitol. As a young political novice I met Art during his un-successful but hard fought bid to become Mayor of the District of Columbia. We connected around many issues,Affirmative Action, civil rights, fair housing and wistful thinking that through organization and bold leadership that a progressive vision could help forge the “Big Tent”notion of GOP party loyalists like Congressman(R) Jack Kemp and Senator Ed Brook (R) .Art could be a political lightening rod; bold and out-spoken, he was an anathema to conservative Republican brand of towing the party-line aimed at capping social programs.
A native of Kansas, Art had been among the early complainants in developing the landmark case of Topeka vs. Board of Education which eventually led to debunking the unconstitutional Separate but Equal doctrine thus ending dejure segregation of American public education. As Assistant Secretary of Labor he along with his associate John Wilkes, crafted the Philadelphia Plan which became the template for federal and State Affirmative Action programs.The legal entitlement crafted for these protected classes ensured : blacks,women, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans were given equal opportunity access to government subsidized contracts in bidding processes classified as certified minority and women’s business enterprises.Affirmative Action initiatives and Small Business initiatives such as the federal MESBIC (Minority Small Business Investment Companies) Act did more within one generation to lift poor,and minority and women contractors and hires into the middle-class American main stream than, perhaps any government mandate since the G.I. bill.
I attended Art Fletcher’s funeral in July 2005 held at the old Evangel Temple in North East Washington. Neither president, George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush Sr. attended the funeral instead, sent their personal tributes and condolences which were read. By the time Art passed at age 80 he had become such an activist and gad fly for change within the GOP leadership, that senate and congressional party leadership kept him at “arms length” to avoid Art’s demands for radical change and concessions for minority inclusion within the GOP. Those who knew Art understood he didn’t ‘give two hoots” about being on the outside agitating, he had spent a lifetime advocating for the poor and down trodden. Art Fletcher was a fearless warrior for change in America and he fought tirelessly to bring needed change and diversity within the GOP where he could administer a “political stiff- arm”as effectively as he had done during the 50s as the first black player for the NFL Baltimore Colts and later the L.A. RAMS. Art believed in opening doors for the less fortunate and if necessary, legally “breaking down those doors” when they were resistant to change and being opened. He is regarded as the “Father of Affirmative Action.” Based upon his formulation and successful implementation of the Philadelphia Plan which became the template for Affirmative Action, minority hiring targets and contracting opportunities grew exponentially. Art Fletcher deserves our nation’s recognition and honor during Black History month and far beyond February. The nation’s broadening of the black middle-class in American colleges and universities as well as minority access to federal contracts for goods and services to considerable degree can be attributed to the skillful leadership and unyielding demands that blacks, women and other minorities had a right to be “at the table” in America.Under his reign as Assistant Secretary of Labor during the Nixon administration and after, well into the Clinton years black Americans and women made inroads and progress as entrepreneurs,contractors and sub-contractors within the trades and among the ranks of Small business.
Today’s GOP could well learn from Art Fletcher’s playbook regarding minority and immigrant inclusion, and how to craft programs to uplift the poor and expand economic opportunity; principles Art clung to dearly until his death from heart failure. Admirers of every political stripe turned out for the home-going of this “giant”who held a mirror toward his GOP party , revealing its warts, blemishes and bigotry. Conservative republicans would eventually rebuff his insistence on the need for expanding Affirmative Action and opening the GOP as a big tent for minorities and women as opposed to merely giving “lip service” to the concept of inclusion.
Liberals, progressives, and moderates all attended the funeral to pay homage to this largely unsung African American hero and patriot. The eulogy was given by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a close personal friend of the Fletcher family, who remarked, “Art is in heaven right now arguing with Saint Peter , telling him to ,“Come on y’all, open these gates wider, and let more people up in here.”Those whom were in the trenches in the turbulent civil rights era can will appreciate the battles Art fought; as a friend and mentor I value lessons I learned from him.Fortunately for me, we stayed in touch over the years until his death from cancer at age 80.To this day I value his steady counsel and unwavering fight for equal and social justice.
My commentary above will post on my blog with video excerpts of the Art Fletcher home going service at a later date. D.Day Media Group Inc.
From: The Seattle Times, Editorial Board of the Tri-City Herald July 15. 2005
Art Fletcher: The Poor Have Lost Their Hero
People living outside political circles might not appreciate the power Art Fletcher carried, but those who knew him know he was one of the…
People living outside political circles might not appreciate the power Art Fletcher carried, but those who knew him know he was one of the most influential men in recent American history.
The former Pasco city councilman died this week at the age of 80 at his Washington, D.C., home. The legacy he leaves behind is astounding. He helped prove a black man could be a force in politics at a time when blacks in some parts of the country were afraid to vote. Most notably, he shaped the nation’s equal-opportunity and affirmative-action policies when the fight against discrimination was just beginning.
As a young man, Fletcher became the first black to play football for the Baltimore Colts and later the Los Angeles Rams. Wounds suffered during World War II in a segregated Army ended his football career.
After the war, he ended up as a teacher in rural Kansas in the 1950s, becoming involved in efforts to overturn school segregation. In fact, Fletcher was the last living member of nine original plaintiffs involved in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered nationwide integration of public schools.
He always was a champion of human rights, and fiercely fought to improve the economic fate of blacks. When he moved to Pasco in the late 1960s, Fletcher created the East Pasco Self-Help Cooperative, a neighborhood development corporation helping blacks start their own businesses.
In 1967, he became the first black person ever elected to a city council in the Tri-Cities. That election night, another black man won in Seattle, making the two of them the first black men in the state to win city council seats.
Not long after, he won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Washington by a 2-1 margin. He lost to the incumbent during the November election by slightly less than 50,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast. The close race caught the attention of President Richard Nixon, who appointed Fletcher assistant secretary for the Department of Labor, where he was in charge of stopping employment discrimination. Later, Nixon appointed him chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Fletcher always was a staunch Republican, but in recent interviews lamented his party’s shift to a far-right agenda that hurt the poor and minorities.
“I find the Republican Party condemning people for being poor,” he once said. He also criticized Republican candidates for talking about family and religious values while at the same time “not being charitable.”
The poor still need a champion, someone with the political force to speak up for them.
If anything, that’s what Fletcher did, and our country is much better for it.