Arthur Fletcher (1924–2005) was the most important civil rights leader you’ve (probably) never heard of. The first black player for the Baltimore Colts, the father of affirmative action and adviser to four presidents, he coined the United Negro College Fund’s motto: “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” Modern readers might be surprised to learn that Fletcher was also a Republican. Fletcher’s story, told in full for the first time in this book, embodies the conundrum of the post–World War II black Republican—the civil rights leader who remained loyal to the party even as it abandoned the principles he espoused.
The upward arc of Fletcher’s political narrative begins with his first youthful protest—a boycott of his high school yearbook—and culminates with his appointment as assistant secretary of Labor under Richard Nixon. The Republican Party he embraced after returning from the war was “the Party of Lincoln”—a big tent, truly welcoming African Americans. A Terrible Thing to Waste shows us those heady days, from Brown v. Board of Education to Fletcher’s implementing of the Philadelphia Plan, the first major national affirmative action initiative. Though successes and accomplishments followed through successive Republican administrations—as chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights under George H. W. Bush, for example, Fletcher’s ability to promote civil rights policy eroded along with the GOP’s engagement, as New Movement Conservatism and Nixon’s Southern Strategy steadily alienated black voters. The book follows Fletcher to the bitter end, his ideals and party in direct conflict and his signature achievement under threat.
In telling Fletcher’s story, A Terrible Thing to Waste brings to light a little known chapter in the history of the civil rights movement—and with it, insights especially timely for a nation so dramatically divided over issues of race and party.
David Hamilton Golland is professor of history and coordinator of humanities at Governors State University. He is the author of Constructing Affirmative Action: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity.
"An impressively researched work on an important life, one with which more Americans should be familiar."—Kansas History
“A thorough account of Fletcher’s life and what it tells us about the history the Republican Party’s relationship to its African American loyalists, especially those, like Fletcher, who were major advocates for civil rights. Golland interlaces the biography with scenes from the fierce battle for the soul of the party waged between its conservative and liberal wings. And while the history of conservative ascendancy is by now well-trod territory, with a number of excellent studies on what that transformation meant for African Americans, Golland adds to the literature by bringing that narrative well into the 1980s and 1990s.”—Journal of Southern History
"Golland makes an original ant thoroughly researched contribution to the crowded field of American civil rights retrospectives."—H-Net Reviews
"Golland, who previously authored a book on affirmative action, has produced an important, well-written, and researched study."—Choice
“Arthur Fletcher lived an extraordinary life. David Hamilton Golland skillfully shows how Fletcher differed from other postwar civil rights leaders and struggled to advance racial equality as a government official and an African American Republican. Golland also poignantly chronicles the numerous personal tragedies that Fletcher confronted.”—Timothy N. Thurber, author of Republicans and Race: The GOP’s Frayed Relationship with African Americans, 1945–1974
“Golland’s newest book provides unique insights into one of the civil rights movement’s most enigmatic iconoclasts: Arthur Fletcher. In this definitive biography, Golland explores the roots and impact of Fletcher’s approach to civil rights, which blended mainstream integrationist ideals with self-help, capitalism, and, most importantly, government-sponsored affirmative action. Though Fletcher is not as well-known as other activists of the era, Golland convincingly makes the case for his inclusion in the pantheon of mid- to late twentieth-century activists.”—Joshua D. Farrington, author of Black Republicans and the Transformation of the GOP
“In this informative and penetrating book, Golland examines the life of Arthur Fletcher and illustrates the challenges of being a minority within both your political party and your racial community. An underappreciated civil rights leader, Fletcher and his experiences illustrate how a commitment to black civil rights and conservative principles became increasingly untenable within the confines of the Republican Party. It’s an account filled with equal parts frustration and determination, and in many ways perfectly illustrates the precarious position of black political conservatives. Golland offers a detailed history, one where Fletcher’s life provides a platform to see how the Republican Party set about on its current path on issues of racial justice. Anyone wanting to better understand the estrangement between the Republican Party and African Americans should read this rich, engaging book.”—Corey D. Fields, author of Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans
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