Government | Politics

Clifford Alexander

First Black Secretary of the Army

Clifford Alexander, Jr. was the first Black person to serve as Secretary of the United States Army.

He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and served in the position until 1981.

The Secretary of the Army is the top non-military person in the Department of Defense. As secretary Clifford was responsible for recruiting people for the army. He was also responsible for preparing them for service and providing training that would help them become good soldiers.

Clifford worked for other presidents before Jimmy Carter. He advised President John F Kennedy on national security concerns and foreign affairs.

He was a champion for civil rights and worked for civil and equal rights for women and Black Americans. He pushed for President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After he signed the Act, President Johnson created the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Clifford would later serve as chairman of the commission from 1967 to 1969.

Clifford Alexander was born in New York City on September 21, 1933. He attended college at Harvard University and graduated in 1955. He then attended law school at Yale University and graduated in 1958.

After law school he served in the US National Guards for one year before becoming an assistant district attorney in New York. From 1973 to 1974 he was a law professor at historically Black Howard University Law School in Washington, DC.

Joseph Hayne Rainey

Joseph Hayne Rainey First Black Congressman

Joseph Hayne Rainey fled to Bermuda so he would not have to help the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When he returned to the United States, he went into politics. He was the first Black man to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Joseph was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina on July 21, 1832. Joseph’s father was allowed to leave the plantation, where they were enslaved, and earn money working as a barber. Since he was not free, he had to share his earning with his enslaver. Joseph’s father saved the money he was able to keep. When he had enough, he purchased his family’s freedom.

When the Civil War started in 1861, the Rainey family was living as free people in South Carolina. Free Black people did not have the same rights as white people. They did not control anything and were sometimes forced to work for those in power.

Joseph was forced to work for the Confederate Army. He did not want to help the south during the war, and he did not want to work for an army that was fighting to keep slavery. When Joseph got the chance he and his wife escaped to Bermuda.

Joseph was a barber like his father. He started a barber business in Bermuda. His wife started a dressmaking business. Both businesses were successful.

The couple returned to the United States during Reconstruction and moved back to South Carolina. Reconstruction was the period that followed the Civil War. It was a time when the country worked to come together as one nation. It was also a time when Black men were able to vote and run for office. During that time Joseph became active in politics.

 

When one of South Carolina’s congressmen had to resign from office, Joseph was chosen to replace him.

 

Joseph Hayne Rainey served in the United States House of Representatives for ten years. While in office he fought for civil rights laws, money for public schools and equal rights for all Americans.

 

Historic Elections

olHistoric Elections5 Historic Elections

Who Made History?

 

This blog post highlights historic elections and trailblazing African Americans elected to key positions in government. They include the first blacks elected to congress, the first black elected to a governorship and of course the first black president.

Edward Brooke

 

November 1966
Edward W Brooke (1919-2015) of Massachusetts became the first African American elected to the United States Senate by popular vote. He served from 1967-1979. Brooke, a moderate republican led efforts to attach an anti-discrimination amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He also defended the need to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and pushed his colleagues to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.

 

 

Shirley Chisholm


November 1968

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) of Brooklyn, New York became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Chisholm was an activist in her community and carried that spirit with her to the House of Representatives where she fought to increase federal funding to extend hours of daycare facilities. She was also the primary backer of the national school lunch bill and led efforts to override President’s Gerald Ford’s veto of the bill. Chisholm served in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983.

 

Lawrence Douglas Wilder

 

November 1989
Lawrence Douglas Wilder (born 1931) became the first African American elected Governor in the United States. He served four years, from 1990-1994. During his governorship he balanced the state budget and sponsored new construction projects at several Virginia colleges and universities, mental health facilities, and state parks.

 

 

Carol Moseley-BraunNovember 1992 (born 1947)
Carol Moseley-Braun (born 1947) of Illinois became the first African American woman elected to the United States Senate. During her term in Congress she fought for social legislation including federal funding for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. She sponsored a National Park Service Initiative to fund historic preservation of the Underground Railroad. She also convinced the Judiciary Committee not to renew a design patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy because it contained the Confederate Flag. Moseley-Braun’s time in the senate was marred by controversy. She was accused of campaign finance violations and was criticized by the Congressional Black Caucus for taking a private trip to Nigeria to attend the funeral of a dictator’s son.

 

Barack Obama

 

November 2008
Barack Obama (born 1961) was elected 44th President of the United States. During his presidency he addressed the financial crisis and put the United States on the path to financial recovery. He was reelected for a second term in  2012. During his second term he implemented the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Chart to share with students: History Making Elections

Ralph Bunche

Ralph BuncheRalph Bunche (1903-1971) was a diplomat, peace negotiator, advisor to presidents and the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bunche was raised by his maternal grandmother, a strong women who was proud of her race and heritage. She raised him to be strong as well and to also be proud of his race. Education was very important to her and she insisted that he continue his education after high school.

Bunche attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated summa cum laude in 1927. After graduating from UCLA he headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts with a scholarship from Harvard University and one thousand dollars that the black community in Los Angeles raised for him. He graduated from Harvard in 1928 with a master’s degree in political science.

Over the next few years he taught at historically black Howard University and alternated between teaching at Howard and working on a doctorate degree at Harvard which he received in 1934.

Bunche was an advisor to presidents and was offered the position of Assistant Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. He refused the position because it required that he live in Washington, DC which had segregated housing. He did however work as an advisor to the Department of State and the military.

In 1945 when representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco to officially form the United Nations and draft the UN charter, Bunche was there representing the United States. In 1946 he was put in charge of the UN’s Trusteeship Department which led efforts to ensure that territories taken during World War II were governed peacefully and in the best interest of its people until it gained independence.

From 1947 to 1949 he was involved in the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. In 1948 the United Nations appointed Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat, to be mediator of the conflict and appointed Bunche as his chief aide.

When Count Bernadotte was assassinated, Bunche was named acting United Nations mediator on Palestine. In 1949, and after eleven months of negotiating, he was able to get Israel and Arab states to sign an armistice agreement.

Ralph Bunche was applauded and hailed a hero for his work. His efforts were recognized by the Nobel committee and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Get Activity for Grades 4-8: Ralph Bunche Word Scramble

More about the man Ralph Bunche

  • Civil Rights Activist
  • Marched with Dr. King
  • Worked with A. Phillip Randolph to establish the National Negro Congress
  • Protested the production of the play Porgy and Bess at a segregated theater in Washington, DC
  • Studied Swahili in London with Jomo Kenyatta, who would later become president of Kenya
  • Professor at Harvard University (1950-1952)