Patricia Robert Harris ~ Women’s History Month



National Museum of African American History and Culture
Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page From Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.
A Page From Our American Story
A Higher Standard: Patricia Roberts Harris
Patricia Roberts Harris sworn in as US Ambassador to Luxembourg
Patricia Harris in her swearing in ceremony
to be the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.
Provided by the U.S. State Department.

Black women have always served a critical role in the African American community, from the names we all know — Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks — to today’s young mother fighting for educational opportunities for her children. Others have quietly broken barriers to open doors that were once closed to people of color.

Patricia Roberts Harris is one of those quiet warriors whose life stands as a testament to excellence, tenacity, and commitment to change.

She was born on May 31, 1924, the daughter of Hildren and Bert Roberts, in Mattoon, Illinois. A product of Illinois public schools, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., on scholarship and graduated summa cum laude in 1945. From early in her life as a brilliant scholar at Howard, she went on to become the first African American woman to serve as a United States ambassador and later the first African American woman to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. Harris was a powerful influence in American politics and a major figure during the Civil Rights Movement.

After graduation from Howard, she went back to the mid-west and began graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1946. But the opportunity to become actively involved in working for social justice drew her back to Washington, D.C. She continued her graduate work at American University, and, at the same time, served as assistant director for the American Council of Human Rights. She also served as the first national executive director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., of which she was a member.

At the encouragement of her husband, William Beasley Harris, a prominent attorney in the District, Harris enrolled in The George Washington University Law School, where she graduated in 1960, first in her class.

During this time, while still active in the fight for civil rights, Harris became increasingly involved in the Democratic Party. Her ability to organize and manage did not go unnoticed. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy selected Harris to co-chair the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights, described as an “umbrella organization encompassing some 100 women’s groups throughout the nation.”

In October of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Harris ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to be chosen as a United States envoy. For Harris the historic moment was bittersweet, saying, “I feel deeply proud and grateful this President chose me to knock down this barrier, but also a little sad about being the ‘first Negro woman’ because it implies we were not considered before.”

With the change of administration in 1968, Harris’ diplomatic role ended. She returned to Washington, D.C., and became the first woman to serve as Dean of Howard University’s School of Law.

In the early 1970s, Harris’ involvement in the Democratic Party culminated in her being named chairman of the powerful credentials committee and an at-large-delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

The election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 thrust Harris into the spotlight, again for another “first.” Shortly after taking office in 1977, Carter selected Harris to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Again Harris made history, this time by not only becoming the first African American woman to become a Cabinet Secretary, but also the first to be in the line of succession to the Presidency, at number 13.

During her confirmation hearing, Senator William Proxmire challenged her nomination and asked her if she felt capable of representing the interests of the poor and less fortunate in America. By this time in Harris’ life she had established herself as not only a recognized leader for civil rights, but also as a prominent corporate lawyer and businesswoman. Some, including a few black leaders, wondered if Harris had grown out of touch with the very people she was charged with serving.

Harris’ answer silenced her critics and perhaps best explains what motivated her throughout her life:

“Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining car waiter. …a black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong…if my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts may end up being part of the system.”

 

US Postal Stamp of Patricia Roberts Harris

During her tenure as HUD Secretary, she helped reshape the focus of the department. A staunch supporter of housing rehabilitation, Harris funneled millions of dollars into upgrading deteriorating neighborhoods rather than wiping them out through slum clearance. She developed a Neighborhood Strategy Program that subsidized the renovation of apartments in deteriorated areas. In addition, she expanded the Urban Homesteading Plan and initiated Urban Development Action Grants to lure businesses into blighted areas. She poured millions of dollars into renovating deteriorating housing projects throughout the nation.

Harris was so effective in her post, that when HUD was split to create two new entities — the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — Carter moved quickly to name Harris secretary of HHS, a position she held for the remainder of his administration.

In 1982, following an unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Washington, D.C., Harris became a full-time professor at The George Washington University National Law Center. She passed away on March 23, 1985 at the age of 60.

In January, 2000, the U.S. Postal Service honored Ms. Harris with a commemorative postage stamp bearing her likeness. Dignitaries from around the nation attended the unveiling ceremony at Howard University, her alma mater, to pay tribute and recognize her contribution to the nation. In addition, Howard created the Harris Public Service Program in her honor to augment its course offerings in public policy and to encourage students to consider careers in public service.

Patricia Roberts Harris’ life is a powerful chapter in our American story. “I am one of them…,” she said at her 1977 hearing to become HUD Secretary. Those words underscored her commitment to social justice and her sense of responsibility to the African American community and to the nation. Those words serve as testament to her life and legacy: political pioneer, successful businesswoman, educator, and champion for civil and equal rights.

All the best,
Lonnie Bunch, Director

Lonnie Bunch
Director
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest member of the Smithsonian Institution’s family of extraordinary museums.

The Museum will be far more than a collection of objects.
The Museum will be a powerful, positive force in the national discussion about race and the important role African Americans have played in the American story — a museum that will make all Americans proud.

history… March10


0241 BC – The Roman fleet sank 50 Carthaginian ships in the Battle of Aegusa.

1496 – Christopher Columbus concluded his second visit to the Western Hemisphere when he left Hispaniola for Spain.

1629 – England’s King Charles I dissolved Parliament and did not call it back for 11 years.

1656 – In the American colony of Virginia, suffrage was extended to all free men regardless of their religion.

1785 – Thomas Jefferson was appointed minister to France. He succeeded Benjamin Franklin.

1792 – John Stone patented the pile driver.

1804 – The formal ceremonies transferring the Louisiana Purchase from France to the U.S. took place in St. Louis.

1806 – The Dutch in Cape Town, South Africa surrendered to the British.

1814 – In France, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by a combined Allied Army at the battle of Laon.

1848 – The U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war with Mexico.

1849 – Abraham Lincoln applied for a patent for a device to lift vessels over shoals by means of inflated cylinders.

1864 – Ulysses S. Grant became commander of the Union armies in the U.S. Civil War.

1876 – Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful call with the telephone. He spoke the words “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

1880 – The Salvation Army arrived in the U.S. from England.

1893 – New Mexico State University canceled its first graduation ceremony because the only graduate was robbed and killed the night before.

1894 – New York Gov. Roswell P. Flower signed the nation’s first dog-licensing law.

1902 – The Boers of South Africa scored their last victory over the British, when they captured British General Methuen and 200 men.

1902 – Tochangri, Turkey, was entirely wiped out by an earthquake.

1902 – U.S. Attorney General Philander Knox announced that a suit was being brought against Morgan and Harriman’s Northern Securities Company. The suit was enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Northern Securities loss in court was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 14, 1904.

1903 – Harry C. Gammeter patented the multigraph duplicating machine.

1903 – In New York’s harbor, the disease-stricken ship Karmania was quarantined with six dead from cholera.

1906 – In France, 1,200 miners were buried in an explosion at Courrieres.

1909 – Britain extracted territorial concessions from Siam and Malaya.

1910 – Slavery was abolished in China.

1912 – China became a republic after the overthrow of the Manchu Ch’ing Dynasty.

1913 – William Knox rolled the first perfect 300 game in tournament competition.

1924 – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New York state law forbidding late-night work for women.

1927 – Prussia lifted its Nazi ban allowing Adolf Hitler to speak in public.

1933 – Nevada became the first U.S. state to regulate drugs.

1940 – W2XBS-TV in New York City aired the first televised opera as it presented scenes from “I Pagliacci”.

1941 – The Brooklyn Dodgers announced that their players would begin wearing batting helmets during the 1941 season.

1941 – Vichy France threatened to use its navy unless Britain allowed food to reach France.

1944 – The Irish refused to oust all Axis envoys and denied the accusation of spying on Allied troops.

1945 – American B-29 bombers attacked Tokyo, Japan, 100,000 were killed.

1947 – The Big Four met in Moscow to discuss the future of Germany.

1947 – Poland and Czechoslovakia signed a 20-year mutual aid pact.

1949 – Nazi wartime broadcaster Mildred E. Gillars, also known as “Axis Sally,” was convicted in Washington, DC. Gillars was convicted of treason and served 12 years in prison.

1953 – North Korean gunners at Wonsan fired upon the USS Missouri. The ship responded by firing 998 rounds at the enemy position.

1955 – The last broadcast of “The Silver Eagle” was heard on radio.

1956 – Julie Andrews at the age of 23 made her TV debut in “High Tor” with Bing Crosby and Nancy Olson.

1959 – “Sweet Bird of Youth”, a play by Tennessee Williams, opened in New York City.

1965 – Walter Matthau and Art Carney opened in “The Odd Couple”. It later became a hit on television.

1966 – The North Vietnamese captured a Green Beret camp at Ashau Valley.

1966 – France withdrew from NATO’s military command to protest U.S. dominance of the alliance and asked NATO to move its headquarters from Paris.

1969 – James Earl Ray pled guilty in Memphis, TN, to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Ray later repudiated the guilty plea and maintained his innocence until his death in April of 1998.

1971 – The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to lower the voting age to 18.

1975 – The North Vietnamese Army attacked the South Vietnamese town of Ban Me Thout.

1980 – Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, lent his support to the militants holding American hostages in Tehran.

1981 – The U.S. Postal Service announced an increase in first class postage from 15 to 18 cents.

1982 – The U.S. banned Libyan oil imports due to their continued support of terrorism.

1986 – The Wrigley Company, of Chicago, raised the price of its seven-stick pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum from a quarter to 30 cents.

1987 – The Vatican condemned surrogate parenting as well as test-tube and artificial insemination.

1990 – Haitian President Prosper Avril was ousted 18 months after seizing power in a coup.

1991 – “Phase Echo” began. It was the operation to withdraw 540,000 U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region.

1994 – White House officials began testifying before a federal grand jury about the Whitewater controversy.

1995 – U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher told Yasser Arafat that he must do more to curb Palestinian terrorists.

1998 – U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf began receiving the first vaccinations against anthrax.

2002 – The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon informed the U.S. Congress in January that it was making contingency plans for the possible use of nuclear weapons against countries that threaten the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction, including Iraq and North Korea.

on-this-day.com

1971 – The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to lower the voting age to 18


See the source image

The 26th Amendment: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote”

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the minimum age for the military draft age to 18, at a time when the minimum voting age (as determined by the individual states) had historically been 21. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became a common slogan for a youth voting rights movement, and in 1943 Georgia became the first state to lower its voting age in state and local elections from 21 to 18.

Did you know? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, young voters (age 18 to 24) were the only group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout in 2008, despite an overall increase of some 5 million voters.

Source: for the complete article … history.com