Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., the controversial chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, continued his running battle with the nation's black leaders Thursday by sarcastically suggesting that they should petition Congress to pay "reparations" to American blacks instead of continuing to support affirmative action regulations.
Both courses of action are equally fallacious, said Pendleton, a black and a Reagan appointee who has freely and abrasively condemned all "special protections" for racial groups since taking over the commission three years ago.
Pendleton's views on affirmative action programs--which set goals and timetables for hiring and promoting more minority group members in the workplace, universities and other institutions--have drawn the ire of many blacks. He, in turn, has belittled black leaders for helping to make blacks "wards of the government," and, in a recent speech, condemned black leaders who support affirmative action as "new racists" who are breaking America into competing racial classes.
At a Los Angeles news conference Thursday, Pendleton repeated his belief that the 1964 Civil Rights Act guarantees only equality of opportunity. He said affirmative action programs go beyond the law by trying to ensure "equality of result."
As for the contention that such programs are required to make up for historical maltreatment of minorities, Pendleton said: "There is nothing I see in the law that requires anybody to make up for the past."
"If America owes blacks something for the past, for the terrible state of slavery," black leaders should take a more direct approach of petitioning Congress for reparations that would be paid to all blacks "instead of tinkering" with civil rights law, Pendleton said.
Raymond L. Johnson Jr., president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, called Pendleton's reparations suggestion "the kind of ridiculous rhetoric we have seen coming out of the mouth of the Reagan Administration.
"I object to his idea that any kind of race-conscious affirmative action must be thrown away," said Johnson, one of about two dozen blacks picketing outside the Biltmore, where Pendleton held his news conference and later spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
"We believe blacks in this country have been discriminated against for more than two centuries," Johnson said. "It's going to take us more than two decades to get out of this mess."
(Johnson said NAACP members declined to attend the luncheon because it would have "subsidized" Pendleton, and because a representative was not given time to address the group.
(Asked if he had ever had a conversation with Pendleton, Johnson answered, "long, long ago, when he taught me swimming at Howard University.")
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission was established in 1957 as a bipartisan, independent group to investigate complaints, research civil rights matters and make non-binding recommendations to the federal government.
Efforts by Pendleton and other Reagan-appointed conservative commissioners to weaken or eliminate affirmative action and school desegregation programs have led black leaders such as Johnson to charge that the Reagan Administration is "making a mockery" of the commission.
In one of his more caustic comments, Pendleton last November called the concept of "comparable worth"--a controversial proposal aimed at reducing the gap between women's and men's earnings--"the looniest idea since Looney Tunes came on the screen."
But on Thursday, he described as acceptable last week's vote by the Los Angeles City Council to raise the salaries of several thousand female employees to the pay level of men holding jobs considered to be of comparable worth.
The council last Friday agreed to raise the salaries of 3,900 secretaries, clerks and librarians (at least 70% of whom are women) close to those paid for male-dominated jobs that require similar skill, such as gardeners, garage attendants, drivers and maintenance personnel.
Pendleton said that while he opposes any law requiring such readjustment of wages, local governments should be free to make those kind of changes during collective bargaining, as was the case in Los Angeles.