Patricia Roberts Harris was born in 1924 in Mattoon, Illinois. She graduated summa cum laude from Howard University in 1945, then went on to finish her postgraduate studies at the University of Chicago and American University. In 1960, Harris was awarded her law degree with honors from George Washington University, and began working for the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Department of Justice. She returned to Howard University as an associate dean of students and lecturer of law in 1961. Two years later, President John F. Kennedy appointed Harris co-chairman of the National Women’s Committee of Civil Rights. In 1964 she served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Washington, D.C. The next year President Lyndon Johnson appointed Harris U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. In 1969 she was named Dean of Howard University’s School of Law. President Jimmy Carter appointed Harris Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1977. From 1979 to 1981, she served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Harris was the first African-American woman to be an ambassador, to head a law school, to serve in a cabinet post and to serve as secretary in two cabinet posts. Harris died of cancer in Washington, D.C., on March 23, 1985. The Patricia Roberts Harris Public Affairs Program at Howard University serves as a living memorial to the dynamic spirit of this trailblazing American.
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