David Golland's New Book Explores the Life of a Black Republican Civil Rights Leader
Historian and Professor David Golland chuckles as he reads a line from his new book: “Arthur Fletcher was the most important civil rights leader you've (probably) never heard of.’’
Golland recited a passage to an intimate group gathered outside Governors State University’s E-Lounge. They’ve come to celebrate the publication of Golland’s second book, “A Terrible Thing to Waste: Arthur Fletcher and the Conundrum of the Black Republican.”
In it, Golland recovers the story of a central character often overlooked in historical accounts of the civil rights era.
Fletcher, a Black Republican who served under four Republican administrations, fathered Affirmative Action as President Richard Nixon’s Assistant Secretary of Labor. He was advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and President George H.W. Bush named him Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
As Executive Director of the United Negro College Fund, Fletcher was key in coining their trademark phase, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”
An unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in Washington—as the first Black nominee for a statewide office there—drew national attention for the second time in as many decades. In 1950, he had been the first African American to play for the Baltimore Colts football team.
Ironically, during the book-signing reception, GSU Visiting Professor Chris Greiner discovered he’d worked on Fletcher’s 1968 campaign as a child in Washington. Greiner saw Fletcher’s black-and-white campaign poster and was flooded with memories he later shared with Paul Fletcher, Arthur’s son, who flew in from Florida for the event.
Golland discovered Fletcher while he was researching his doctoral dissertation. “Constructing Affirmative Action: The Struggle for Equal Opportunity,” was published in 2011. Though Fletcher’s name commonly came up in documents, there was little recognition.
“Every time I turned around when I was researching, there was Art Fletcher—and yet nobody knew him,’’ Golland said.
For the second book, Golland took a deeper dive into Fletcher’s life and upbringing in segregated Kansas, which inspired his lifelong pursuit of equity and inclusion until his death in 2005.
When asked how his father reconciled being part of a political party that seemed to shun policies and programs that supported African Americans, Paul Fletcher said his father taught him a critical lesson he carries to this day.
“He would say, ‘There is no permanent party, there’s just permanent interests, and ours has to be civil rights.’ So we have to be in both parties.”
Paul Fletcher said he was elated to learn Golland was writing his father’s story, and he encouraged GSU faculty, staff, and students at the reception to keep fighting.
“Governors State University is a political institution, whether you know it or not. Education was the first place we made strides in the civil rights movement,’’ Paul Fletcher said. “We have to keep going. We’re in a battle for the minds of the masses.”
“A Terrible Thing to Waste: Arthur Fletcher and the Conundrum of the Black Republican “ is available in the GSU Library.