BY WALTER OPINDE
On this day, May 31, 1924, the First African-American Female Politician to Hold a Cabinet Position in the U.S. history was born.
Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African-American woman to hold a Cabinet position, head a law school, and serve as an ambassador of the U.S. She fought for fair housing and urban development, as well as the employment practices under President Carter’s Administration while serving as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Patricia Harris served as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She later served as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, a post which was later renamed as the ‘Secretary of Health and Human Services.’ Harris became the first African-American female to serve in the U.S. Cabinet and the first to enter the line of presidential succession. Previously, she had served as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, under the Administration of President Lyndon Johnson, entering the historical records as the first female from the black assent to represent the U.S. as an ambassador.
Patricia Roberts was the daughter of a railroad dining car waiter, Fitzgerald Roberts. She graduated from the Howard University in 1945. While at the university, she was elected Phi Beta Kappa and later elected as the Vice-Chairperson of the Howard University NAACP chapter. There she met William Harris Beasley, a member of the Howard law faculty, with whom they got married on 1st September, 1955. Patricia did her first postgraduate work in industrial relations at the University of Chicago between 1946 and 1949, a job she also did at the American University between 1949 and 1950. As well, she served as the Assistant Director of the American Council on Human Rights from 1950 to 1953. Harris received her Juris Doctorate from the George Washington University National Law Center in 1960, ranking position one out of 94 students.
Sometimes described as tough and blunt, Patricia Harris demanded the best from her staff, as well as herself, while serving as the secretary. She was a charismatic administrator who served to reshape the agency, which in some troubles by the time she was assuming the office. Through her hard work, she rebuilt the urban neighborhoods and encouraged businesses to invest more in different fields. Harris left her position of Secretary of Health and Human Services after Jimmy Carter lost during the 1980 elections to the Republican’s Ronald Reagan.
Harris ran for the position of Mayor of Washington but peacefully bowed out after losing the Democratic primaries to the incumbent Barry Marion. Thereafter, she left politics and returned to her teaching profession, serving as a professor at George Washington University Law School until the time of her death on 23rd March, 1985, from Breast Cancer. She died at the age of 60 years.
Read more of the original story via:
DeLaat, Jacqueline (2000). “Harris, Patricia Roberts”. Women in World History, Vol. 7: Harr-I. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications. pp. 14–17.
Press, Associated (1985-03-24). “Patricia Roberts Harris Dies of Cancer”. Los Angeles Times.
Thompson, Kathleen (1994). “Harris, Patricia Roberts (1924–1985)”. Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 539–540.