Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr. made history as the nation’s first African-American secretary when President Jimmy Carter appointed him as Secretary of the United States Army in 1977. Alexander worked as a private in the National Guard and at the Department of Foreign Affairs under President John F. Kennedy. He was also a leading civilian in the United States Army.
According to Blackpast.org, Alexander oversaw the Department of Army’s $33 billion budget as well as its administrative, training, operational, logistical support, and preparedness tasks.
Alexander pushed encouraged people to join the Army after the Vietnam War outside of the regular draft procedure as Secretary of the Army. He also sought to enhance the status of women in the United States Army. Alexander also advocated for the American Army to be converted to an all-volunteer force.
During Alexander’s tenure as Secretary of the Army, the United States Army prioritized inclusivity throughout its organization. This was consistent with national aspirations to empower people of color throughout the country. As the National Museum of the United States Army wrote about Alexander, how the United States Army conducts itself now is still impacted by his service as Secretary of the Army.
On September 21, 1933, he was born in New York City to Clifford L. and Edith (McAllister) Alexander. His father was a Jamaican immigrant who ran the Riverton Houses, a Harlem housing development. Alexander graduated with honors from Harvard in 1955 and from Yale Law School in 1958. In 1959, Alexander was appointed as an assistant district attorney in New York County.
He worked in this capacity until 1961, when he began assisting other New York City organizations such as Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited. This organization assisted young African Americans in Harlem in gaining greater access to schools and jobs. Furthermore, it advocated for educational reforms that will benefit Black communities.
Between 1961 and 1962, he served as executive director of the Manhattanville Hamilton Grange Neighborhood Conservation Project. Alexander first entered Washington politics in 1963, when the National Security Council employed him as a foreign affairs officer. From 1963 through 1967, Alexander served as a presidential advisor, first under President Kennedy and subsequently under President Johnson.
Alexander was appointed to lead the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because of his experience and ability (EEOC). He investigated how several American corporations conduct the hiring process. He held this position until resigning during the Nixon administration.
According to People, Alexander left the government during the Nixon administration and went on to become the first Black partner at a major D.C. law firm and the anchor of a syndicated news commentary show before being appointed Army secretary by Carter.
People also showed that by the time Alexander stepped down as Secretary of the United States Army, he had enabled several Black leaders to become generals, including Colin Powell, who would later become the first African-American Secretary of State. Alexander died in his New York City residence on July 1, 2020. He was 88 years old at the time.
It’s humbling to know that Alexander has joined a long list of people of African origin who have made significant contributions to America’s prosperity in a variety of fields and capacities. Their colossal achievements should be documented for posterity.