Harlem’s Beloved: Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., First Black U.S. Army Secretary, Dies At 88

Harlem’s Beloved: Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., First Black U.S. Army Secretary, Dies At 88

An Army trailblazer has passed away.

Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., the first Black Army Secretary of the United States, died at 88, Fox 5 News reports.

During the 1960s and 70s, the Harlem-raised and Ivy-league-educated pioneer made a significant mark on the civil rights movement. His dedication to addressing issues with the treatment of minorities and women in the Army laid the groundwork for advancing people of color in the Army and the United States combined.

Alexander’s life took him from an enlisted private in the National Guard to a foreign affairs officer under President John F. Kennedy and one of the highest civilian positions in the U.S. Army.

In 1977, Alexander became the 13th secretary of the Army, appointed by President Jimmy Carter. The role was historic as it was the first time a Black civilian was the head of any U.S. military branch, according to the news outlet.

As secretary, Alexander prioritized the advancement of Black people in the United States Army. He also promoted the transition of the United States to an all-volunteer Army force. This action encouraged recruitment after the Vietnam War, outside of the formal draft process, and elevated the role of women in the U.S. Army, per the National Museum of the United States Army.

At the time, Alexander argued that “the theory of a draft somehow cutting across all class and race lines in a society, and therefore being more equitable than a volunteer army, would not hold water… The draft always hit harder on poor people, and therefore it was not equitable.”

Born on Sept. 21, 1933, Alexander graduated cum laude from Harvard College in 1955 as the first Black president of the student council. In 1958, he earned his law degree from Yale Law School.

Alexander established his law career after enlisting as a private in the New York National Guard for six months. He joined the 369th Field Artillery Battalion and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. After completion, Alexander became an assistant district attorney for New York County and served in this role until 1961.

In 1959, Alexander married Adele Logan, a historian and professor, and raised two children, Elizabeth and Mark Clifford Alexander.

Soon after, Alexander began working for community organizations in New York, including the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited. His work there eventually took him to Washington, D.C. as a foreign affairs officer on the National Security Council in 1963.

From there, Alexander served as an advisor for President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1964 until 1967 and was later appointed as the chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

After leaving the Army secretary position in 1981, Alexander formed Alexander and Associates; a consulting firm focused on workplace inclusivity.