“You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining-car worker. If my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts can wind up as being part of the system.” – Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African American woman to serve in the United States Cabinet
Patricia Roberts Harris
On May 31, 1924, Patricia Roberts Harris, the first Black woman to hold a presidential cabinet position, was born in Mattoon Illinois. Harris, the was also first African American woman to serve as a United States Ambassador, was born in Mattoon, Illinois. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from Howard University in 1945 and in 1960 graduated at the top of her class from the George Washington University National Law Center. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg where she served until 1967. In 1969, Harris was named dean of Howard University’s School of Law, a position she held until 1972. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Harris Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and in 1979 she became Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare where she served until 1981. In 1982, she was appointed a professor at the George Washington University National Law Center, a position she held until her death on March 23, 1985. Harris also served on the Board of Directors of several corporations, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Scott Paper Company, and IBM. The Patricia R. Harris Education Center in Washington, D.C. is named in her honor.
The Akosua Report: Facts on The African Diaspora, is written by Akosua Lowery. Follow her on Twitter @AkosuaLowery.