In 1959, Arthur Fletcher—a former professional football player and mid-level Kansas politician—moved to California. He was down on his luck, and things soon went from bad to worse. He made few inroads in Sacramento as the conservatives of his Republican party—including racist John Birchers—marginalized liberals and moderates. He suffered personal tragedy: his wife committed suicide, jumping off the Bay Bridge. Fletcher now found himself a single parent in a Berkeley housing project. As far as he had come from childhood poverty in segregated Junction City, Kansas, Fletcher was back to square one. But he had an incredible tenacity and drive—and more than a few political connections. He resolved to use politics to improve the lot of his fellow man, especially the black man. He took a job as a teacher in an inner-city special needs program, funded by the War on Poverty, and ran for state assembly. Fletcher did well in the race—for a Republican—but lost. He moved to Pasco, Washington, founding a black self-help group and winning a city council seat. This brought the attention of Richard Nixon, who in 1968 was looking for a civil rights program that jibed with the Republican Party’s corporatist ethos. President Nixon appointed Fletcher to the Labor Department, where he implemented the Revised Philadelphia Plan, earning himself the title "father of affirmative action." Fletcher’s experience was hardly typical of civil rights leaders. He preferred to work inside the system, with all the acceptance of it that that implied. But he knew what life was like in the ghetto, and resolved to put his insider’s skills to the task of undermining the very system he served. His years in California, which proved the most trying of his life, were formative, and are the subject of this paper.
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Research Article| August 01 2014
Poverty in a Sea of Wealth: Arthur Fletcher in California, 1959–1965
California History (2014) 91 (2): 58–73.
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David Hamilton Golland; Poverty in a Sea of Wealth: Arthur Fletcher in California, 1959–1965. California History 1 August 2014; 91 (2): 58–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2014.91.2.58
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