Politics

Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris was a trailblazing figure in American politics and law. Born on May 31, 1924, in Mattoon, Illinois, Harris went on to become the first African American woman to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States government, as well as the first African American woman to serve as an ambassador. She was a dedicated public servant who fought tirelessly for civil rights and social justice throughout her career.

Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1945. She went on to earn a law degree from the same institution in 1960. Throughout her time at Howard, Harris was an active member of the civil rights movement, participating in sit-ins and other protests aimed at ending segregation and discrimination. After completing her law degree, Harris began her career in public service as an attorney with the Department of Justice. She went on to serve as the first female dean of Howard University’s School of Law, where she worked to increase diversity and expand opportunities for underrepresented groups.

In 1965, Harris was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, becoming the first African-American woman to hold such a position. She later served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter. In 1977, Harris made history when she was appointed by President Carter to serve as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, becoming the first African-American woman to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States government. In this role, Harris worked to increase access to affordable housing and improve living conditions for low-income Americans.

Harris went on to serve as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter, where she continued her work on behalf of disadvantaged communities. Throughout her career, Harris was a vocal advocate for civil rights and social justice, working to break down barriers and expand opportunities for all Americans. After leaving government service, Harris continued to be an influential voice in the legal and political worlds. She served as a professor of law at George Washington University and later at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 1985, she became the first African American woman to head a Fortune 500 company when she was appointed CEO of the pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome.

Throughout her life, Patricia Roberts Harris was a true pioneer and trailblazer, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of women and people of color. Her legacy continues to inspire and guide those who seek to make a difference in their communities and in the world at large.

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