From Pasco, Washington to Washington, DC: Arthur A. Fletcher and the American Dream, 1965–68

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
David Hamilton Golland, Governors State University
In the late 1960s, as urban riot followed riot, East Pasco, Washington, looked very much like Watts, Hough, Detroit, and Newark. It had a largely unemployed young black male population, and an all-white police force focused more on participating in the local drug trade than halting it. A prominent sign on the westbound side of the Columbia River bridge prohibited black people from entering neighboring Kennewick after dark. In nearby Yakima, the John Bircher-controlled Herald included employment advertisements which blatantly said “we don't hire niggers.” So Pasco had all the ingredients for a violent, deadly conflagration. But it also had Art Fletcher.

A former pro-football player (the first black on the Baltimore Colts), in 1965 Arthur A. Fletcher was a widowed father barely making ends meet as a special-needs schoolteacher in Oakland, California. He came to Pasco to run a Great Society minority training program, and he soon founded the East Pasco Self-Help Cooperative Association. The Coop sponsored a black-owned service station, a childcare center, and a truck-bed construction business, and instituted a neighborhood watch program. Pasco never saw a riot, and Fletcher won a seat on the city council (tied for the first black in the 20th Century to serve on any city council in the state). He lost a tight race for lieutenant governor in 1968, but attracted the attention of President-elect Richard Nixon, who was seeking a civil rights position which would jibe with his party's corporatist ethos. Appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor, in 1969 Fletcher implemented the Revised Philadelphia Plan, earning himself the title “father of affirmative action.” He went on to head the United Negro College Fund, advise three more Republican presidents, and serve as chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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