Ms. Harris, born in Mattoon, Illinois on May 31, 1924, was a summa cum laude graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. She did postgraduate work at the University of Chicago and American University. In 1960, she received her law degree from George Washington National Law Center graduating number one out of a class of 94. Her work experience included a brief stint at the Department of Justice before becoming the Associate Dean and later Dean of Howard University Law School. She was the first African American woman to be named Dean of a law school. She also was appointed the Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1965 by President Johnson. In addition to her civil service, she was also the first national executive of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
When asked, during her Senate Confirmation Hearings for the Carter Administration position, whether she could identify with the poor and disadvantaged, she remarked, "I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I'm a black woman, the daughter of a dining car waiter. … I am a black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia. … 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."
After an illustrious career in education, public and civil service, Patricia Harris died in 1985 from breast cancer. She was married to William Beasley Harris. The United States Postal Service honored Harris in January 2000 with a commemorative stamp in the Black Heritage Series.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which banned discrimination, made the appointment of African Americans to U.S. Presidential Cabinet positions possible. Click here for a list of other African American Cabinet leaders.