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Reagan Praises Civil Rights Chief As Apostle of Justice

June 7, 1988

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., the U.S. Civil Rights Commission chairman who fought against affirmative action, was remembered Monday by President Reagan as a ″leading apostle of a just and color-blind society.″

Pendleton, 57, one of the Reagan administration’s highest-ranking blacks, collapsed and died Sunday of an apparent heart attack while exercising at a health club in San Diego, where he lived.

Funeral services for Pendleton, who had suffered a heart attack in 1976 and battled high blood pressure, were scheduled Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, a family spokeswoman said Monday.

Pendleton drew bitter criticism during his 6 1/2 -year tenure as commission chairman for opposing civil rights policies such as racial quotas and busing in conformance with Reagan’s stance.

″Yesterday, with the sudden death of Clarence Pendleton, America lost a leading apostle of a just and color-blind society,″ Reagan said in a statement. ″Clarence Pendleton early in life took up the banner of equal rights for all Americans and boldly carried the banner forward.″

Reagan also invoked the memory of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in praising the man he called ″Penny.″

Pendleton leaves behind a confidence ″that one day all Americans will be judged not by stereotypes and prejudices, but on their own merits, qualifications, performance - as Penny often quoted Martin Luther King Jr., ’Not ... by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.‴

No autopsy will be performed, Deputy Coroner Jack Larkie said, adding that Pendleton’s physician would identify the cause of death. Deputy Coroner David Lodge said it appeared he had suffered a heart attack.

Friends and acquaintances remembered Pendleton as a dedicated public servant and principled man.

John E. Jacob, president and chief executive of the National Urban League, said, ″Despite our very forceful disagreement about key issues affecting black Americans, I respected his right to those opinions, as he respected my right to differ.

″He was a good friend and a formidable adversary.″

″He had a lot of courage and took stands, sometimes, that weren’t very popular,″ said San Diego police Chief Bill Kolender, who had known Pendleton for 15 years.

But San Diego County Supervisor Leon Williams called Pendleton an ″embarrassment″ to blacks.

″I don’t know any black people who thought his positions were admirable,″ said Williams, who is black.

In November 1981, Reagan appointed Pendleton as commission chairman to replace the fired Arthur S. Flemming, who had criticized the administration’s civil rights policies as ″in conflict with the Constitution.″

The bipartisan commission is an advisory body that monitors enforcement of civil rights laws within the federal government. It lacks policy-making or enforcement powers.

Pendleton maintained that equal treatment - not special preferences - should form the basis for federal civil rights policies.

He once termed the concept of comparable worth, which envisions women receiving the same salary as men with similar jobs, ″the looniest idea since ’Looney Tunes.‴ He called affirmative action ″divisive, unpopular and immoral,″ and opposed busing.

He also criticized the Civil Rights Restoration Act, passed earlier this year over Reagan’s veto, as ″an unwarranted invasion ... by Big Brother.″

His views made him a lightening rod for criticism of the Reagan’s administration’s approach to civil rights enforcement.

In July 1986, congressional critics unsuccessfully tried to replace the commission with a new Office of Civil Rights Assessment, accusing the commission under Pendleton of becoming a ″political instrument of the executive branch.″

Pendleton dismissed the move and said it ″simply reflects the political differences″ between some members of Congress and the commission majority.

Pendleton was alone when he collapsed Sunday morning in the exercise room of the San Diego Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort, said Gary Lingley, director of the hotel’s tennis club. Pendleton had attended regularly since joining the club several months ago.

Pendleton, an avid jogger and swimmer, once taught physical education in college and worked as a government recreation director in Washington, and Baltimore before being named director of the Model Cities Department in San Diego in 1972. He was president of the Urban League in San Diego from 1975 until 1982.

Pendleton graduated from Howard University in 1954 and after serving in the Army he returned to earn a masters’ degree in education.

Pendleton’s is survived by his wife, Margrit, and their daughter, Paula, as well as by two grown children from a previous marriage who live in Washington, D.C.

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