Joseph Rhodes, Jr.

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Joseph Rhodes, Jr.
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 24th district
In office
January 2, 1973 – November 19, 1980
Preceded by Erroll B. Davis
Succeeded by William W. Pendleton
Personal details
Born August 14, 1947
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died November 7, 2013(2013-11-07) (aged 66)
Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Linda Rhodes (divorced)
Residence Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Alma mater California Institute of Technology
Harvard University

Joseph Rhodes, Jr. (August 14, 1947 – November 7, 2013) was an American politician and activist. From 1972–1980, he served four 2-year terms as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission from 1988–1995. He served as a member of several public panels, including the President's Commission on Campus Unrest that investigated the fatal shootings of unarmed student protesters by soldiers and police in 1970 at Kent State and Jackson State Universities.[1][2][3]

Rhodes' father was an African-American who served as a US soldier in the Philippines during World War II. Rhodes' mother, a woman of Filipino/Chinese descent, met his father there in 1945 and married him. The couple settled in Pittsburgh. Rhodes attended Pittsburgh public schools. From 1965-1969 Rhodes was an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology, and he received a B.S. in history in 1969. Rhodes served two terms as the president of the student body.[4] He was in residence at Harvard University from 1969–1972 as a junior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, where he researched racism in Victorian England.[5][6] Rhodes then held a number of teaching positions at the University of Massachusetts, California State College and the University of Pittsburgh. He was also employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1967, and served as a staff researcher for the Ford Foundation 1969-1970.[7]

After 1968 Rhodes served on a number of national commissions studying such diverse subjects as the causes of campus unrest and the need for new structures in higher education. He was a consultant to the Office of the Secretary, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1968–1971. He was a member of the More Effective School Personnel Utilization (MESPU) Panel in the Office of Education from 1969-1970,[8] and a consultant to the President Nixon's Counsel from 1969–1970. He was a member of President Nixon's Committee on Voluntary Service, 1969. He also served on the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Secretary's Committee on New Structures in Higher Education (The Newman Committee) (1969–1972), and he was on the Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1971.

Rhodes' service on the President's Commission on Campus Unrest in 1970 brought him to nationwide attention. This Commission was established specifically to investigate two incidents in 1970 in which unarmed student protesters were shot and killed by soldiers and policemen, one at Kent State University in Ohio and a second at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Rhodes was the youngest and least known member of the committee, and its only current student; his selection for the commission is attributed to his longstanding relationship with John Ehrlichman, who was a prominent member of then President Richard Nixon's staff. Shortly after his appointment, Rhodes gave a controversial interview to Robert Reinhold of The New York Times in which he said "If the President's and Vice-President's statements are killing people, I want to know that" and that California Governor Ronald Reagan was "bent on killing people for his political gain."[9] The following day, Vice-President Spiro Agnew called publicly for Rhodes to resign.[10] Rhodes refused, and was a signatory to the Commission's "Scranton Report" in September, 1970.[11]

Rhodes was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 24th Legislative District (Allegheny County), in 1972, and was reelected to the House for three successive terms. In 1977 he sponsored an amendment (Act 41) to the Juvenile Justice Act that prohibited incarceration of juveniles in adult jails and that diverted status offenders from the juvenile justice system. Status offenders are those whose crimes derive from the offender's juvenile status instead of from the criminal act itself; one example would be violation of a juvenile curfew that bans juveniles from public places during certain hours of the night.[12][13] Linda Rhodes has been quoted as saying that Rhodes "...considered passage of Act 41 as his greatest achievement during his three-terms as a lawmaker."[3]

Rhodes did not run for a fifth term as a Representative. He sought the Democratic party nomination for United States Senate in 1980, but lost substantially in the April, 1980 primary election to former Pittsburgh mayor Peter F. Flaherty. Arlen Specter defeated Flaherty in the November, 1980 general election.

Rhodes then worked as a planner for the Westinghouse Corporation in Pittsburgh for seven years. In 1987 he was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey as the Deputy Commissioner of Commerce. In 1988 he was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate as a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and served until 1995. He then worked as a consultant for corporations and for the leadership of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.[6][14]

He was cited by Time Magazine as one of 200 new leaders in America and received the Americans for Democratic Action National Youth Award in 1971. He was named on the master list of Nixon political opponents during his service to the Nixon administration, and included this as an award on his resume.[3]

Rhodes had been married to Linda Rhodes, who served from 1987–1994 as the Pennsylvania Commonwealth's Secretary of Aging. The couple had two children.[3]


  1. ^ Hodge, Ruth E. (2000). "Guide to African American Resource at the Pennsylvania State Archives-MG 407. Joseph Rhodes, Jr. papers, 1973-1980". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 
  2. ^ Jones, Diane Nelson (November 12, 2013). "Joseph Rhodes Jr. Pittsburgh-born activist and Pennsylvania lawmaker, dies at 66". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  3. ^ a b c d Miller, Barbara (November 12, 2013). "State Rep. Joe Rhodes Jr., champion of prison and social reform, dies". The Patriot News. His interest in prison reform was sparked by seeing juveniles housed with adult criminals at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, said his former wife, Dr. Linda Rhodes. He sponsored legislation in 1977 that amended the Juvenile Justice Act, which diverted status offenders from the juvenile justice system and made it unlawful to hold juveniles in adult jails. He considered passage of Act 41 as his greatest achievement during his three-terms as a lawmaker, Linda Rhodes said.  The statement that Rhodes served 3 terms is apparently erroneous; he served 4 terms.
  4. ^ Caltech Archives Photo of Lee DuBridge shaking hands with Joe Rhodes, 1967.
  5. ^ Rhodes, Jr., Joseph (Fall 1974). "A Dialogue". Daedelus 103 (4): 302–310. JSTOR 20024277. 
  6. ^ a b Rhodes, Jr., Joseph; Whittaker, III, Raymond J. (October 20, 2008). "Interview with the Honorable Joseph Rhodes Jr. (D) 24th District Allegheny County 1973–1980". Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  37-page transcript of a 2008 interview that was part of an oral history project of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
  7. ^ "Lecture Archives - MIT Compton Lecture Series - Joseph Rhodes, Jr., and James Ahern, 1970". Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Publicity for a lecture, "The Nature of the Modern Academic Community," October 19, 1970.
  8. ^ "Rhodes' Caltech Years End; Has Joe Set Patterns for Future?". Caltech News 3 (4). May 1969. pp. 4–5. 
  9. ^ Reinhold, Robert (June 15, 1970). "Negro on Campus Panel Feels 'Solemn' Duty to Stop Killings". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ McNaughton, James M. (June 17, 1970). "Agnew Bids Student Quit Panel, but White House Rejects Move". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1970. Retrieved 2013-11-17.  This book is also known as The Scranton Commission Report; Gov. William Scranton chaired the commission. As a government document, the report is in the public domain. Separately copyrighted photographs have been deleted.
  12. ^ Bryant, Jean (September 3, 1979). "Act Defending Runaways Defended Here". The Pittsburgh Press. 
  13. ^ Clouser, Megan (June 1996). "The Separation of Juvenile and Adult Offenders: A Strategy for Success". Pennsylvania Progress (National Center for Juvenile Justice) 3 (3). 
  14. ^ Cusick, Fredrick (March 2, 1988). "Casey Names 3d Candidate To Puc Seat". The Philadelphia Inquirer.