Arthur Fletcher, GOP Affirmative Action Champion

We remember the life and legacy of Arthur Fletcher, a Republican presidential advisor who was also an early booster of affirmative action. Fletcher died Tuesday at age 80.

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ED GORDON, host:

In 1995, when the GOP tried to eliminate affirmative action, Arthur Fletcher spoke up. Today that voice is silent. Fletcher died yesterday. He was 80. Arthur Fletcher is known as the father of affirmative action. As assistant secretary of Labor under Richard Nixon and chairman of the US Civil Rights Commission under George H.W. Bush, he helped create laws that led to minority workers gaining access to jobs in private companies. But when he ran a short-lived campaign for president in 1995, he told NPR that affirmative action was never intended to continue indefinitely.

Mr. ARTHUR FLETCHER (Father of Affirmative Action): No particular government program should last forever, and I've always said that it would probably take two generations to turn around what I refer to as reduced discrimination to a level of insignificance. I don't believe you'll ever get rid of it, but I think you can reduce it down to a manageable level where the class action type system isn't needed anymore.

GORDON: Fletcher always championed minority workers.

Mr. FLETCHER: I have a vision of an America with a work force that's second to none. I've been going around the country, prior to announcing, doing what I call a Keeper of the Flame workshop(ph), and I've been doing it at colleges and universities, on the one hand, and high schools on the other, and public projects on the other. And basically, what I've been trying to point out is the role that the worker and the work force plays in making sure that America is secure, stable, prosperous and has a promising future. I called it America's new beginning. This is the first time that this country has had to depend on a work force that's going to be dominated by other than white males. That's the only work force we have to develop. That's the only work force we have to educate, train. That's the one that would carry us into the 21st century, and that's the one that will sustain us as a superpower.

GORDON: As a Republican, Fletcher was sometimes criticized by liberals and some in the black community, but that never stopped him for working for social change from within his party. Arthur Fletcher died yesterday from apparent heart disease. He was 80 years old.

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