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Civil Rights Commissioner Clarence Pendleton Dead at Age 57

June 6, 1988

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Clarence M. Pendleton, chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and one of the highest-ranking black officials in government, died Sunday after collapsing while exercising, officials said. He was 57.

Pendleton died about 11 a.m. at Mission Bay Hospital after efforts failed to revive him, said deputy coroner David Lodge. Pendleton was believed to have suffered a heart attack, Lodge said.

President Reagan selected Pendleton, an opponent of affirmative action quotas and busing, to head the commission in November 1981 after firing Arthur S. Flemming. Flemming, the chairman since 1974, criticized Reagan’s civil rights policies as ″in conflict with the Constitution.″

The bipartisan Civil Rights Commission monitors the enforcement of civil rights laws within the federal government. It lacks policy-making or enforcement powers and serves only as an advisory body.

A White House spokesman, Bill Harlow, said he was aware that Pendleton had died, but said the White House wouldn’t have any comment until the morning.

″He’s going to be missed,″ Civil Rights Commission member Robert A. Destro said. ″I don’t think it’s going to make any difference whether people agreed with him or disagreed with him. He was a great human being .... He was a very dynamic person.″

Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said Pendleton ″was an outstanding public servant and, like any American, he had the right to express his point of view, which may not have been a mainstream point of view.″

Pendleton stirred wrath by calling liberal black leaders ″the new racists″ whose support for the Democratic Party ″led blacks into a political Jonestown.″ He described the concept of comparable worth as ″the looniest idea since ’Looney Tunes‴ and said that ″relieving one’s poverty is not civil rights.″

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

He also called affirmative actions ″divisive, unpopular and immoral″ and opposed federal set-aside contracts for minority-owned businesses.

Pendleton often was at odds with other commission members. The commission voted 5-1 in 1982 to state that there had been retrenchment and retreat in all areas of civil rights enforcement. Pendleton was the lone dissenter.

In June 1982, Pendleton argued there was little Reagan or any president could do for urban areas until the economy and American productivity improved.

″I believe in the trickle down theory because it (prosperity) doesn’t trickle up,″ he said.

Pendleton maintained that black citizens must make it on the merits of their own abilities without any special preference or apologies from the government or the white power structure.

He made a practice of giving so-called ″Uncivil Rights″ awards to those whose actions furthered discrimination as he defined it. The most recent went to Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer last month for delaying the firing of an aide who made anti-Semitic remarks.

Pendleton lived in the affluent community of La Jolla, about 10 miles north of downtown San Diego, with his second wife, Margrit, and their young daughter.

He commuted to Washington, D.C., and also frequently gave speeches around the country.

Pendleton battled high blood pressure for years, Police Chief Bill Kolender said after talking to Mrs. Pendleton, whom he described as ″distraught, upset, obviously.″

Pendleton was alone at the Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort, riding a stationary cycle when he collapsed about 10 a.m., said Gary Lingley, director of the hotel’s tennis club. Pendleton, a San Diego resident, was a member of the health club, Lingley said.

″Two members heard a small noise, a scream maybe, we don’t know what it was,″ Lingley said. ″About a minute later, when they walked into the health club they saw him lying face down by the Exercycles. He had fallen unconscious.″

Lingley said the club members called for help and he arrived at the scene in about 15 seconds and began giving Pendleton cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A doctor who was a hotel guest assisted until the paramedics arrived, he said.

An avid jogger and swimmer, he once taught physical education at the college level and worked as a government recreation director in Washington and Baltimore 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 Washington, D.C., in 1954 and after serving in the Army he returned to earn a masters’ degree in education.

Pendleton was married Oct. 10, 1970 to Margrit Krause, according to the Federal Staff Directory. Their three children were listed as George Wallace, Susan Adele and Paula Denise.

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