Harold C. Fleming, 70, a Southerner who commanded a segregated company of black soldiers in World War II and devoted the rest of his life to the cause of equal opportunity, has died.
Fleming, who led the Southern Regional Council at the height of the struggle against discrimination in the South, was found dead in his bed Friday by a friend after he failed to keep appointments on Wednesday and Thursday. His wife was hiking in Italy.The council, a behind-the-scenes force during the 1960s, fought discrimination through interracial dialogue, research and voter registration.
"It was fascinating work, albeit underpaid and sometimes noisily under-appreciated by many of my fellow white Southerners," Fleming wrote in a 25th anniversary report to members of his Harvard University class of 1944.
He said his work with the council spanned "the last years of lynching as a social institution," the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public schools, the schoolhouse confrontations in Little Rock, Ark., and the sit-ins and freedom rides of the 1960s.
In 1961 he came to Washington to help establish the Potomac Institute, a small think-tank that sought innovative ways of attacking discrimination. He retired as its president in 1987 to write a book about his work there.
He served as a consultant to a White House conference, "To Fulfill These Rights," called by President Johnson in 1965.
In another report to Harvard, Fleming said his interest in civil rights developed when he found himself "deeply and uncomfortably involved both physically and emotionally" with the pains of discrimination while commanding a segregated unit of black soldiers in Okinawa.
After the war, he returned to Harvard and graduated magna cum laude. He went home to Atlanta where a conversation with crusading newspaper editor Ralph McGill sent him to job at the council. He was there for 14 years and its director for four.
In addition to his wife, the former Virginia de Conigh, he is survived by his first wife Jane Phillips and two sons, Gary and Anthony, from his first marriage.