Charles Dowdy took a long time last week to clean out his office at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority building. In seven years, a man accumulates all sorts of things - family pictures, countless books and reports.
And then there was a letter, framed and hanging on the wall: "We here highly resolve that we shall not have worked in vain to get you where you are and that Metro shall indeed have a new birth of money, equality for all, and more big holes and concrete in the ground, and that a Metro of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish. - From your devoted construction stiffs. Nov. 5, 1971."
Dowdy hasn't forgotten that day or that letter. He had just been promoted from structural engineer to the head of Metro's office of minority development, and he didn't want to let those "devoted construction stiffs" down.
For Dowdy, a Metro of, by and for the people translated into awarding more construction contracts to minority firms and increasing minority hiring by Metro.
When Dowdy's office opened in 1971, minority forms had received $1.8 million from Metro, only 1 percent of the total contract funds awarded up to that time. Since then, they have received a total of $100 million for an annual average of 5 percent of the contract funds awarded.
In terms of jobs within Metro, the percentage of minorities on Metro's staff has more than doubled in the last decade.
It was no easy task, Dowdy said, but he believed in it and he got Metro officials to believe in it, too.
Now, almost seven years later, Dowdy is ready to look back and move on. He has left Metro to return to business as manager of a minority construction firm in Atlanta.
Although many people knew of Metro's record as a trend setter in minority recruitment, few knew that Dowdy was the man who helped Metro achieve that record. Throughout his years at Metro, Dowdy took pride in his accomplishments, but ever so quietly.
"I just happen to be a 44-year-old country boy who did some things that turned out right," he said. "I'm not hung up about what I did. No big deal."
But others would disagree with Dowdy's assessment.
"He gave us (minorities) the voice we needed on the inside to make it," said Roy T. Blount, president of TYROC Corp., one of the area's growing minority construction firms. "He used strong encouragement and moral persuasion techniques to get the larger contractors to listen to us and give us a chance."
Jackson Graham, former general manager of Metro, said, "There's no question about it. Chuck did a great joh. He helped make Washington a model for minority development. We set the example for other major cities, even the federal government."
Not bad for a country boy from Tennessee. But Dowdy is a well-traveled country boy. He worked on engineering assignments in Ohio, Thailand and California before coming to Washington in 1970.
When Metro officials decided to start a minority development office, they turned to Dowdy - with some reluctance. "He was such a damn good engineer we hated to lose him in that capacity," Graham said.
Dowdy went to work quickly to correct what he described as a "dismal situation" for minorities. He started the Minority Business Utilization Program and got the Metro Board of Directors to establish goals for awarding more contracts to minority firms. In 1971, minority businesses received only $1.2 million of the total contract funds awarded that year, according to Metro records. In 1972, they got $10 million; in 1973, $15 million, and in 1975, they received a high of $28 million. Since 1972, minority firms have been getting an average of $15 million a year from Metro contracts.
"We gave the minority contractors a chance, and they proved they could do the job right." Dowdy said. "What pleased me most of all was that we created an atmosphere of cooperation between the big firms and the minority contractors. Many of them got together to other projects after their work at Metro.
"For years, people have turned away minority firms by saying, 'We need someone with more experience.' Now, these firms have experience."
Dowdy's office was also responsible for putting more minority employes on the Metro payroll. In 1971, only 76 of the authority's 245 employes - or 31 percent - were minorities. This year, over 3,800 of Metro's 6,000 workers - or 62 percent - are from minority groups. In terms of professional staff, the percentage of minorities rose from a low of 18 percent in 1971 to its current level of 31 percent.
Other cities took notice of Metro's progress. Public transportation projects in Baltimore, Atlanto and Boston adopted similar minority recruitment programs. And many federal projects drew from the Metro plan. "I don't know if we are right," Dowdy said. "But if we weren't, there sure are a hell of a lot of people following us down the wrong path."
Dowdy said he met resistance on many of his initiatives. "But it wasn't resistance as much as it was apprehension. We were suggesting a lot of innovative programs. It would have been strange not to ask questions or have doubts."
He admitted that he intentionally tried to stay behind the scenes, partly because he wasn't interested in personal publicity and partly because he wanted to avoid potential controversy. "What we were doing might not have been too popular with certain segments of the population," he said. "So why wave a red flag in front of the bull?"
In recent months, Dowdy has spent much of his time trying to maintain existing programs and to recruit more minorities for the Metro professional staff.
But the job is no longer as challenging as it once was. "Sure, there's still work to be done," Dowdy said. "We have to improve our hiring practices for female professionals and Hispanic employes. But I think I've done about all I can do from a pragmatic standpoint. And besides, I got an offer I would have been a fool to turn down."
That offer came from Leon Nash, whom Dowdy described as a "successful young minority entrepeneur who wants to do some good things." Dowdy said he will move to Atlanta later this month to manage Nash's construction firm. But first, he plans to spend some time with his family, just relaxing.
"I leave this job extremely satisfied, traumatically challenged and satisfactorily rewarded," he said. "It's been frustrating as hell at times, and it didn't come easy. But as my old man used to say, "If it's worth doing and having, it's worth hustling for,'"
And Charles Dowdy thought it was worth doing.