Pendleton, Clarence M., Jr.

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Clarence M. Pendleton, Jr.


Clarence Pendleton Jr. was an enigma, thought by some to be a role model to blacks and by others to be a traitor to blacks and black issues. Pendleton is best known as the conservative Republican chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Pendleton began working for black issues and ran a record-setting program as head of the San Diego Model Cities Program. Broadly stated, Pendleton believed in changing institutions rather than providing jobs or money on an individual basis.

Pendleton, who liked to be called Penny, was an only child, born in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 10, 1930 to middle-class parents, Clarence Pendleton Sr. and Edna Marie (Ramasur) Pendleton. The Pendletons moved to the District of Columbia when Pendleton was young. His father was the swimming coach at Howard University, the assistant director for the D.C. recreation department, and a lifeguard at the Banneker Recreation Center in the family's neighborhood. Pendleton's parents encouraged him to work; one of the jobs he regularly had was washing the steps of his neighbor, Mrs. Marshall, the mother of Thurgood Marshall. In high school, Pendleton was an exceptional athlete who dreamed of becoming a football player. While he did play center for the football tem, his strength was swimming. Pendleton's tenacity in the pool could not be beat.

Howard University was a family tradition; both Pendleton's father and grandfather had graduated from there. His grandfather graduated from Howard with a degree in law in 1896 and practiced law in Baltimore while Pendleton was growing up. His maternal grandfather graduated from St. Augustine College. Pendleton served as an altar boy for fifteen years at the Episcopal Church where his great-uncle was the rector. Pendleton grew up surrounded by exceptional role models who had great expectations of him. His goal was to follow in his father's footsteps.

Pendleton graduated from Howard University with a B.S. He worked briefly for the D.C. recreation department while going to graduate school, but class work was interrupted when Pendleton joined the army. He served his time in a medical unit as a specialist third class at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Pendleton received an honorable discharge from the army in 1957. He returned to Howard and worked as a physical education instructor while completing his master's degree in education in 1961.

Career in Physical Education

Pendleton became a swim coach at Howard like his father, thus fulfilling his lifelong dream. He was head coach of the swim team, winning championships ten of the eleven years he worked at Howard. In 1964 and 1965, he also coached the Egyptian swimming teams, which had also won national championships. Pendleton served as head coach of the basketball and rowing teams and as assistant football coach. During this time he married and eventually divorced. There were two children born from Pendleton's first marriage.

In 1968, with two children to support from his previous marriage and earning only $7,500 per year at Howard, Pendleton jumped at the chance to become recreation coordinator for Baltimore's Model City Program. In 1970 Pendleton married Margrit Krause. He became director of the Urban Affairs Department of the National Parks and Recreation Association (NPRA) in Baltimore in 1971. In this position, Pendleton advocated for creating new parks, for open spaces, and for making recreational activities available to everyone. While at the NPRA, he worked to convince the federal government of the need for year-round parks and recreation planning instead of the short-term summer programs for which the federal government traditionally planned. Pendleton also pushed with communities in Baltimore for increased community involvement in the establishment of community recreation programs.

In 1972, mayor Pete Wilson of San Diego, California, offered Pendleton the chance to direct the Model Cities Program. In this capacity, Pendleton served on the Community Education Advisory Council, at the U.S. Office of Education, and on the Governor's Task Force on Affordable Housing for the State of California.


Born in Louisville, Kentucky on November 10
Earns B.S. from Howard University
Earns MA in education from Howard University
Coaches at Howard University
Works as recreation coordinator, Baltimore's Model Cities Agency
Serves as director of the Urban Affairs Department of the National Recreation and Parks Association; marries Margrite Krause
Moves to San Diego to work for the San Diego Model Cities Program
Becomes president of San Diego's Urban League
Appointed chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Resigns from U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Dies in San Diego, California on June 5

In 1975, Pendleton became president of the San Diego Urban League, a position he held until 1982. He pushed for increased real estate investments and economic development programs over the social programs traditionally supported by the Urban League. During his tenure at the Urban League, the league's land holdings increased from $218,000 to $3 million. Pendleton spearheaded packaging loans for small business as well as managing and upgrading small apartment units. Hearing of black Marines' subjection to Ku Klux Klan attacks at Camp Pendleton, he enlisted support for them. Another time, Pendleton stirred things up at the Urban League by arranging a $5 per plate soup and cornbread dinner for senior citizens as the annual Urban League fundraiser. However, Pendleton's time at the Urban League was not entirely peaceful. He was accused of mismanaging league funds, but was eventually cleared of all charges.

At the Urban League Pendleton began to shift political beliefs. He served as the first president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change. The coalition was a black conservative group that had formed in San Francisco in 1980. Among the attendees were Henry Lucas Jr., Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, and Randolph Bromery. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss alternatives to affirmative action and welfare. The coalition worked with the Heritage Foundation, the president of the San Diego Local Development Corporation, and the chairman of the San Diego Transit Corporation. At this same time, Pendleton also served as president of the San Diego Coalition Dedicated to Economic and Environmental Development.

During Pendleton's time with the San Diego coalition there was a lot of excitement in one black neighborhood about the construction of a veterans' hospital. The hospital would have provided many jobs for the neighborhood; however, Pendleton supported the hospital being built at Balboa Park which was the location favored by his friend Edwin Meese III. The hospital was built in Balboa Park. It was a decision which came back to haunt Pendleton quickly.

By 1970, Pendleton had come to believe that money was the great equalizer and that if blacks earned more money and became more economically self-sufficient they would assume a greater role in society. The 1970s also saw a dramatic shift in Pendleton's politics. Until this point Pendleton had been a liberal Democrat; however, he switched to the Independent Party and then the Republican Party. San Diego mayor Pete Wilson and Edwin Meese, a confidant of Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California at that time, were believed to have influenced Pendleton's switch. At least part of the decision was made based on the fact that power and profit were more common in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. When Reagan ran for president, Pendleton was one of only 150 Urban League directors to endorse his candidacy.

Heads U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Pendleton's endorsement of Reagan's presidential campaign brought him to national attention. In 1981, President Reagan appointed Pendleton to replace Arthur S. Fleming, whom Reagan had fired for defending civil rights initiatives that the Reagan administration wanted to reduce or eliminate. During confirmations hearings, NAACP leaders testified against Pendleton's confirmation. Colleagues from the Urban League also testified against Pendleton. Pendleton's backing of the location of the San Diego veterans' hospital was brought up as well as questions about his political views and taxes. In the end, Pendleton was approved by Congress and assumed the chairmanship in 1982.

Some say that Pendleton's appointment was a means by which Reagan attempted to pacify critics who felt his administration was insensitive to minority concerns and that Reagan was trying to reverse hard-won civil rights progress. Regardless of Reagan's motives, Pendleton was firm in his stance against affirmative action, hiring quotas, comparable worth, and school busing to end segregation. Pendleton's number one priority was to investigate instances of reverse discrimination. In a 1985 speech Pendleton said he wanted the commission to spearhead the effort to achieve "a color-blind society that has opportunities for all and guarantees for none." He believed affirmative action was a "bankrupt policy" which did not allow people to succeed on their own merits. He felt hiring quotas caused minorities entering the workforce to think they did not have to acquire the skills necessary to fairly compete against others in the same arena. Pendleton opposed busing because it defeated the purpose of neighborhood schools. He also felt no one had the right to say white schools were better than black schools.

The political situation at the Civil Rights Commission quickly heated up. Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan wrote that Pendleton had single-handedly turned the commission into one of the most anti-civil rights units in federal government. According to Rowan, "If Congress wants to show President Reagan that it is sincere about reducing spending and the federal deficit, it might vote swiftly to abolish the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Under the leadership of Clarence Pendleton, the Civil Rights Commission has become an arrogant enemy of the most abused, most miserable, most helpless people in the land. Pendleton, his deputy Morris Abrams, and a majority of the commission are waging war on the civil rights movement."

The Reagan administration sought to strengthen Pendleton by unilaterally replacing the three democratic commissioners with three Reagan appointees. The commission members would serve fixed terms, and Pendleton was appointed the chair for six years. One of the first things the committee did in January 1984, under Pendleton's leadership, was to vote five to three to cancel a study on the effects of budget cuts on primarily minority colleges. The five committee members argued that budget cuts were not innately discriminatory thus outside the scope of the commission. This action was quickly followed by the approval of a study of the problems caused for people of southern or eastern European descent by affirmative action. The Commission's next step was to denounce the use of quotas by the Detroit police department to increase the number of promotions by black police officers.

In 1985 on Face the Nation, Pendleton said there was going to be an order signed eliminating preferential treatment and that the imbalance in the workforce would not be blamed on discrimination. Speaking at Cornell University that year, Pendleton stated that the Civil Rights Commission should be dismantled in 1989 when it came before Congress for reauthorization. When the Reagan administration failed to back Pendleton's comments, Pendleton told Reagan to stop talking one way and acting another.

Pendleton's biggest problem arose because of the minority set-aside programs. Designed to give minority business owners the opportunity to compete for government contracts, the minority set-aside programs had been riddled with corruption since their inception in 1968. Some of the problems concerned white-owned companies employing blacks as fronts to get contracts; actual minority firms winning the contracts then subcontracting them out to white-owned businesses; and contracts going to minority businesses which were already successful rather than those minority businesses which would truly have benefited from the contracts. Pendleton felt there was little evidence that the set-asides helped to create legitimate minority business.

Pendleton was accused of being a hypocrite for opposing set-asides based on the fact that when he worked at the Urban League, he advised minority-owned businesses how to take advantage of Small Business Administration loans. Still others asked how Pendleton could go from believing in federal funding of social assistance programs to abandoning government support of the private sector. Pendleton's stance on set-aside programs so incensed blacks in Congress that twenty-eight black Republicans called for his resignation as chairman of the Civil Rights Commission.

While Pendleton was a staunch backer of the Reagan administration, he still had conflicts with it. For example, he was openly against the tax exemptions given to racially discriminatory private schools and criticized the slowness of the Reagan administration's endorsement of the Voting Rights Act.

Not all the changes Pendleton made at the Civil Rights Commission were looked on negatively. Pendleton increased the speed of the commission meetings, thus cutting back on some of the pontificating for which the commissioners were famous. Pendleton valued efficiency. Following the Reagan administration rule of budget trimming, Pendleton asked that the commission's budget be reduced. Pendleton closed two regional offices and trimmed the level of responsibility of the commission's state advisory committees.

The final straw for Pendleton came in 1987 when an audit of the Civil Rights Commission's records from October 1982 to January 1986 showed discrepancies in hiring practices, travel expenses, and record keeping. The commission was unable to account for $175,000 of its budget. It was also discovered that Pendleton had billed $70,000 in salary to a position which was traditionally part time. Ultimately, Congress cut the commission's budget from $11.6 million to $7.5 million. Ironically, when the budget cuts were made and were followed by recommendations to dismantle the Civil Rights Commission, Pendleton resigned.

During his tenure with the Civil Rights Commission, Pendleton continued to work in San Diego commuting to Washington, D.C. for commission meetings. He remained chairman of San Diego Transit and president of Pendleton and Associates, a business development and investment firm. Pendleton was also a trustee for the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation and served on the board of the Greater American Federal Savings and Loan Association. He continued as chairman and president of the San Diego Local Development Corporation.

Following his resignation in 1987, Pendleton returned to his home in La Jolla, California. Thanks to his many business interests in San Diego there was much to keep him busy. Pendleton died of a heart attack while exercising at a health club on June 5, 1988; he was fifty-seven years old. He was survived by his wife, Margrit; a son and two daughters.



Banner-Haley, Charles Pete T. The Fruits of Integration: Black Middle-class Ideology and Culture, 1960–1990. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

Walton, Hanes, Jr. When the Marching Stopped: The Politics of Civil Rights Regulatory Agencies. Albany, N.Y.: Albany State University of New York Press, 1988.


Pendleton, Clarence M., Jr. "Comparable Worth Is Not Pay Equity." Vital Speeches of the Day (1 April 1985): 382-85.

Rowan, Carl T. "Abolish the Civil Rights Commission." Washington Post, 19 March 1985.

Trescott, Jacqueline, and Eve Ferguson. "Chairman Clarence Pendleton, Jr.; the 'Wild Card' of the Civil Rights Commission." Washington Post, 12 November 1982.

                                      Anne K. Driscoll