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.

NOTES

1.

Previous versions of this essay were presented at the 2011 conference of the Pacific Coast Branch/American Historical Association, Seattle Washington; the 2011 conference of the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States, Oxford, England; the 2011 conference of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, Claremont, California; and as a plenary address at the 2012 Faculty Psychotherapy Conference, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York. The author would like to express gratitude to Paul, Sylvia, Joan, Patsy, and Phyllis Fletcher, as well as Professors David Aliano of the College of Mount St. Vincent, Mark Peterson of Washburn University, Hillel Swiller of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Quintard Taylor of the University of Washington for invaluable advice and assistance. The author would also like to thank Josh Sides and the anonymous peer reviewer at California History.

2.

“A Hard-Driving Black Official: Arthur Allen Fletcher,” New York Times, December 2, 1971; Homer E. Socolofsky, Kansas Governors (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1990), 200–203; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003, by Political Science Department, Washburn University (Mabee Library, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas); Arthur Fletcher biography at The History Makers, from an interview conducted May 29, 2003 (http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=526&category=lawMakers, accessed October 16, 2010); “Presidential Adviser Arthur Fletcher, 80, Dies; ‘Father of Affirmative Action’ Counseled Nixon, Ford, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush,” Associated Press, July 13, 2005; Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010, by and in possession of the author; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010, by and in possession of the author.

3.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003.

4.

Stu Dunbar, “Just As It Seems to Me” column, State Journal (Topeka, Kansas), August n.d., 1948; “Athlete Assumes Y Post,” Tri-City Herald, April 12, 1965; John Whitaker to Bill Casselman, February 25, 1969 (Records of President Richard M. Nixon, Collection of the Department of Labor, box 5, “Executive, 1” folder, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD); “A Hard-Driving Black Official: Arthur Allen Fletcher.”

5.

Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200-203; Paul E. Wilson, A Time to Lose: Representing Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995), 35–43; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Arthur Fletcher biography at The History Makers; “Presidential Adviser Arthur Fletcher, 80, Dies,” Associated Press, July 13, 2005; Mark Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher: Football All-Star to the ‘Father of Affirmative Action’” (Kansas History 34 (Autumn 2011), 224–41; Paul Fletcher interviews, July 30, 2010, and April 2, 2011, by and in possession of the author.

6.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 22–23.

7.

William H. Leckie, The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967); Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

8.

Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200–203; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010. On the Knight-Knowland “Big Switch,” see, for instance, James Worthen, The Young Nixon and his Rivals: Four California Republicans Eye the White House, 1946–1958 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010).

9.

John Robert Owens, California Politics and Parties (New York: MacMillan, 1970), 201–202; Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200–203; Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 24.

10.

Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200–203; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 24; Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

11.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 24; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

12.

Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, March 12, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author).

13.

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Worthen, The Young Nixon and his Rivals; Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011); Michelle M. Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

14.

Thomas F. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 232–234; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

15.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Paul Fletcher to the author, March 14, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author).

16.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 3–4; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

17.

“Mental Patient Leaps to Death,” Oakland Tribune, October 3, 1960; Stewart E. Perry, The Human Nature of Science: Researchers at Work in Psychiatry (New York: The Free Press, 1966); Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, March 18, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author).

18.

“Mental Patient Leaps to Death”; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Phyllis Fletcher, “Sweet Phil from Sugar Hill,” NPR Radio Program, January 1, 2004 (available at Transom.Org, http://transom.org/?p=4531, accessed March 15, 2011); Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Sylvia Fletcher e-mail, March 18, 2011.

19.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Paul Fletcher interview, April 2, 2011.

20.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul Fletcher interviews, July 30, 2010 and April 2, 2011; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, April 6, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author).

21.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul Fletcher interviews, July 30, 2010 and April 2, 2011; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, April 6, 2011. In his novel The Last Days of Louisiana Red (Champaign, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1974), Ishmael Reed mentions Art, Jr.: “We thought we'd go to eat at the Rainbow Sign and then down to Solomon Grundy's to hear Art Fletcher. He plays a soft piano, and you can sit about the fireplace. People can hear what each other say. Across the way you can see the skyline of San Francisco” (59).

22.

Paul Fletcher interviews, July 30, 2010 and April 2, 2011; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

23.

Phyllis Fletcher, “Sweet Phil from Sugar Hill”; Paul Fletcher interviews, September 25, 2010, by and in possession of the author, and April 2, 2011; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, April 6, 2011.

24.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul Fletcher interviews, September 25, 2010 and April 2, 2011. The quotations are from the Arthur Fletcher interview.

25.

Mark Brilliant, The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Shana Bernstein, Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). See also Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

26.

Arthur Fletcher, 1974 curriculum vitae (Records of President Gerald R. Ford, White House Central Files, Name File Box 1045, “Fletcher, Arthur [1]” folder, Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor, MI); Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010.

27.

Owens, California Politics and Parties; JoinCalifornia.Com (1962 election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1962-11-06, and William Rumford election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/candidate/1210, accessed March 16, 2011).

28.

Owens, California Politics and Parties; Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200–203; Jackson K. Putnam, “A Half-Century of Conflict: The Rise and Fall of Liberalism in California Politics, 1943-1993,” in Richard Lowitt, ed., Politics in the Postwar American West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 42–63; Worthen, Young Nixon and his Rivals, 15–22; JoinCalifornia.Com (1942 election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1942-11-03, and 1946 election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1946-11-05, accessed March 17, 2011).

29.

Frank M. Jordan, State of California Statement of Vote: Consolidated Primary Election, June 1, 1948 (Sacramento, California: Office of the Secretary of State, 1948), and Ibid., June 3, 1952, June 8, 1954, June 5, 1956, June 3, 1958, June 7, 1960, and June 5, 1962; Owens, California Politics and Parties; JoinCalifornia.Com (1962 election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1962-11-06, accessed March 16, 2011; William Byron Rumford election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/candidate/1210, accessed April 12, 2011). The Statement of Vote for the 1950 primary election is not available.

30.

Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010; JoinCalifornia.Com (1962 election history).

31.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Arthur Fletcher funeral video, June 2003, in possession of the author; Paul and Sylvia Fletcher interview, December 28, 2010; JoinCalifornia.Com (1964 election history, http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1964-11-03, accessed March 17, 2011); Sylvia Fletcher to the author, April 12, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author). In 1967, Fletcher ran for (and won) a seat on the Pasco, Washington city council; in 1968, he ran for (and won) the Republican primary for Washington State lieutenant governor (but lost the general election); in 1978 he ran for (and won) the Republican nomination for mayor of Washington, D.C. (but lost the general election); and in 1996 he ran for (and lost) the Republican nomination for president of the United States. In 1972, he worked for Richard Nixon's successful presidential reelection campaign as a deputy to RNC Chairman George Bush; in 1976 he worked for Gerald Ford's unsuccessful presidential reelection campaign as a deputy White House advisor; in 1980 he worked for George Bush's unsuccessful presidential campaign and helped Bush secure the vice presidential nomination after Ford withdrew his own name; and in 1988 he worked for Bush's successful presidential campaign.

32.

Paul E. Wilson, A Time to Lose, 38–40; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Mark Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher,” 17–20.

33.

Socolofsky, Kansas Governors, 200–203; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003.

34.

Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960–1972 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 125–254, 303–304, 319; Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 138–139; David Hamilton Golland, Constructing Affirmative Action: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 65–102, 123–124, 136, 142.

35.

Theodore H. White, in The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum House, 1961), blames Nixon's ultimate defeat by John F. Kennedy later that year on this decision, which moved the official civil rights position of the Republican Party to the left of that of the Democrats, probably costing Nixon the State of Louisiana, which Kennedy carried by only 50.4 percent in a year when any one additional state would have given Nixon the White House (214–235). In the end, according to Robert A. George, Nixon took 32 percent of the black vote in 1960, down from Eisenhower's 39 percent in 1956, but still quite respectable in that black voters had been trending Democratic nationwide since 1932 (“Back in Black,” National Review, July 12, 2000). For more on the 1960 Republican schizophrenia over civil rights, see Timothy Thurber, Republicans and Race: the GOP's Frayed Relationship with African Americans, 1945–1974 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013), 120–133.

36.

“Southern Strategy,” editorial, The New York Times, August 11, 1988; Graham, The Civil Rights Era, 303–4, 319; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; William Raspberry, “Reagan's Race Legacy,” column, The Washington Post, June 14, 2004; and Golland, Constructing Affirmative Action, 123–24, 136, 142.

37.

“Y Picks Director for Pasco Project,” Tri-City Herald, April 9, 1965; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Paul Fletcher interview, April 2, 2011; Sylvia Fletcher to the author, April 6-10, 2011 (e-mail correspondence in possession of the author).

38.

“Y Picks Director for Pasco Project,” Tri-City Herald, April 9, 1965; Katherine Bishop, “Berkeley Journal; Who'll Sell Tofu Puffs After Coops are Gone?” The New York Times, June 6, 1988; Karen Zimbelman, “Berkeley: Lessons for Coop Leaders,” Cooperative Grocer #38, January–February 1992; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; John Curl, For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2009), 194–197; and Settlements on the Columbia River: Portland, Oregon, Astoria, Oregon, Richland, Washington, Kennewick, Washington, Pasco, Washington (Memphis: LLC Books, 2010), 57–64, 77–84, 129–140. Joan Hassan legally changed her name to Joan Fletcher.

39.

“Y Picks Director for Pasco Project”; “Athlete Assumes Y Post,” April 12, 1965; “‘Skill Bank’ is Planned in Higher Horizon Program,” Tri-City Herald, April 13, 1965; “$86,000 Request Approved,” Tri-City Herald, June 12, 1965; Paul Fletcher interview, September 25, 2010. The quotations are from “Athlete Assumes Y Post.”

40.

Jack Briggs, column, Tri-City Herald, September 16, 1966; Briggs, “‘Sin City’ Reforms,” Tri-City Herald, September 28, 1966; “East Pasco Coop Launches Service Station Business,” Tri-City Herald, n.d. (September) 1966; Arthur A. Fletcher Candidate Statement, Tri-City Herald, September 17, 1967; “Pasco Cooperative Seeks Church Grant,” Tri-City Herald, September 20, 1967; Web Ruble, “Campbell-Stinson Race Undecided; Fletcher, Seattleite First Negroes to Win Council Elections in State,” Tri-City Herald, November 8, 1967; “Fletcher blasts Pasco's Police,” Tri-City Herald, November 10, 1967; “Negro Candidate Tells His Goals,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, June 20, 1968; “We'll Field a Great Team: Fletcher Swamps Hydroplane Driver,” Tri-City Herald, September 18, 1968; “Pasco Negro Rising Political Star,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, September 19, 1968; “Co-Op is Key to Win, Says Fletcher,” Tri-City Herald, September 20, 1968; Briggs, “‘Hounds’ Sniff at Fletcher,” Tri-City Herald, September 27, 1968; Michael Flynn, “Former Pro Football Star: ‘Black Capitalism’ Founder Battles for Lieutenant Governorship,” Philadelphia Bulletin, September 30, 1968; Val Varney, “G.O.P. Candidates Team Up for Campaign Fly-in Series,” Seattle Times, October 5, 1968; “Ex-Player Fletcher Vies with Ex-Coach Cherberg,” Tri-City Herald, November 3, 1968; “Former Kansan Boosts Poor: Arthur Fletcher, Now Candidate for Office in Washington, Pushing Plan for Neighborhood Development Corporations,” Kansas City Star, November 3, 1968; “Fletcher Loses; To Leave Pasco,” Tri-City Herald, November 7, 1968; Frances Piven and Richard Cloward, The Politics of Turmoil: Essays on Poverty, Race, and the Urban Crisis (New York: Vintage Press, 1975); Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1987), 168, 221, 302; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Kevin Mumford, Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 125, 149–50, 173; Paul Fletcher interviews, July 30, 2010 and September 25, 2010; “Hough Riots,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (http://ech.case.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=HR3, accessed October 16, 2010); Dan Evans interview, October 28, 2010, by and in possession of the author; Sam Reed interview, November 5, 2010, by and in possession of the author; Golland, Constructing Affirmative Action, 14–34, 126.

41.

“Fletcher Says Nixon Problem is a Black One,” Tri-City Herald, August 18, 1968; “Nixon Names WU Grid Great to Labor Post,” Topeka Capital, March 15, 1969; Nixon to United States Senate, March 14, 1969 (Nixon Records, Collection of the Department of Labor, box 5 “Executive, 1” folder, Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA); “Negro Named to Key Position in Labor Department,” Philadelphia Bulletin, March 15, 1969; Peter H. Binzen, “U.S. to Revise and Reinstate ‘Phila. Plan’ on Minority Hiring,” Philadelphia Bulletin, June 12, 1969; “A Hard-Driving Black Official”; Graham, The Civil Rights Era, 326; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Arthur Fletcher biography at The History Makers; “Presidential Adviser Arthur Fletcher, 80, Dies”; Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010; Golland, Constructing Affirmative Action, 125–126.

42.

John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). For more on Fletcher's years with Nixon, see Golland, Constructing Affirmative Action.

43.

Betty Wells, “Ex-Kansan Bucks Odds in D.C. Mayoral Race,” Wichita Eagle, September 25, 1978; Kevin Merida, “The Firm Founder of Affirmative Action,” Washington Post, June 13, 1995; David S. Broder, “Rights Commissioner Arthur Fletcher Joins G.O.P. Field,” Washington Post, July 8, 1995; Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003; Arthur Fletcher funeral video; Paul Fletcher interview, July 30, 2010.

44.

Arthur Fletcher interview, April 9, 2003.

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