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Civil Rights Commissioner Clarence Pendleton Jr. Dead At 57

June 6, 1988 GMT

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., who rose from the slums of the nation’s capital to help lead President Reagan’s battle against racial quotas as the first black chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has died.

He was 57.

Pendleton, one of the Reagan administration’s highest-ranking blacks, died Sunday after apparently suffering a heart attack while exercising, deputy coroner David Lodge said.

No autopsy will be performed on Pendleton, Deputy Coroner Jack Larkie said today, adding that Pendleton’s physician would identify the cause of death.

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Pendleton drew wrath by calling liberal black leaders ″the new racists″ whose support for the Democratic Party ″led blacks into a political Jonestown.″

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.

″Clarence 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,″ Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in Los Angeles.

In 1981, Reagan appointed Pendleton 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 was the lone dissenter when the commission voted 5-1 in 1982 to state that there had been retreat in all areas of civil rights enforcement during the administration.

Last year, the commission rejected a Pendleton-promoted staff report assailing the Supreme Court for upholding job preferences for women in affirmative action plans.

″He was a great human being,″ commission member Robert A. Destro said. ″We had our disagreements and our agreements. He was a very dynamic person. He will be missed.″

The White House declined immediate comment on Pendleton’s death.

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

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

He also opposed federal set-aside contracts for minority-owned businesses.

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

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

In July 1986, congressional critics of the commission made an unsuccessful attempt to replace it 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.

″He was a man of rare courage and conviction,″ said Sen. Pete Wilson, R- Calif. ″There is no question he stepped on toes, but we are poorer for his loss.″

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

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

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 was a new member of the club.

He died an hour later after efforts failed to revive him, coroner’s officials said.

He had battled high blood pressure for years, Police Chief Bill Kolender said.

Pendleton’s wife, Margrit, was out of town with their daughter when he died. Kolender described Mrs. Pendleton as ″distraught, upset, obviously.″

Pendleton, an avid jogger and swimmer, once taught physical education in college and worked as a government recreation director in Washington, D.C., 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.