Affirmative action pioneer dies at age 80

SUNDAY, JULY 17, 2005

Arthur A. Fletcher, who was widely regarded as the father of affirmative action, has died. He was 80.

Fletcher died of natural causes Tuesday at his home in Washington, D.C.

As the assistant secretary of Labor under President Nixon in 1969, Fletcher devised the first successful enforcement plan for affirmative action, known as “the revised Philadelphia Plan.” It required employers doing business with the government to set timetables for hiring minorities and was later amended to include women.

It became the blueprint for affirmative action programs.

He advised three more Republican presidents – Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Bush appointed him to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which he led from 1990 to 1993.

Angry over attacks on affirmative action, Fletcher entered the 1996 presidential race as a longshot candidate. He urged the Republican Party not to abandon minorities and the working class and planned to finance his campaign with $5 contributions. His slogan: “Send five and keep affirmative action alive.”

He knew he wouldn’t win, but he wanted what he considered his legacy – affirmative action – to get some publicity.

“People find him kind of an oddball,” his wife of 41 years, Bernyce Hassan-Fletcher, told the Washington Post in 1995.

As the executive director of the United Negro College Fund in the early 1970s, he is said to have helped coin another fund-raising slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Born in Phoenix, the son of a career military man, Fletcher grew up in California, Arizona, Oklahoma and Kansas. He organized his first civil rights protest in Junction City, Kan., after he was told that black student photographs would be included only in the back of his high school yearbook.


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