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Clifford Alexander, First Black U.S. Army Secretary, Harlem Son, Dies

Patch logo Patch 7/5/2022 Kathleen Culliton
Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander Jr., said at a Fort McPherson news conference, that contrary to the opinion of some, he does not think the Army has too many generals, in Atlanta on March 23, 1977. © AP Photo/Charles Kelly Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander Jr., said at a Fort McPherson news conference, that contrary to the opinion of some, he does not think the Army has too many generals, in Atlanta on March 23, 1977.

HARLEM, NY — Clifford Alexander Jr., the Harlem local who became the nation's first Black secretary of the Army, died on July 3, according to reports. He was 88.

Alexander's daughter, poet Elizabeth Alexander, told the New York Times her father died in his Manhattan home of heart failure.

The former secretary of the Army had a prestigious career that took him from Harvard and Yale universities to the the New York National Guard, the New York District Attorney's office and ultimately into the White House.

Alexander served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Lyndon Johnson and as the secretary of the Army under Jimmy Carter.

The Times reports Alexander was known for providing opportunities for Black officers, including a young Colin Powell.

“Cliff saw his role as secretary of the Army as a key extension of the civil rights movement," Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. told the Times.

“The fact that the United States military is, perhaps, the most integrated institution in our society can be traced to the foresight of Clifford Alexander.”

Alexander's dedication to civil rights can be traced back to a childhood in Harlem.

Alexander was born in 1933 to Edith McAllister — a civil rights activist Alexander credited with helping knock down color barriers in New York organized baseball and Clifford Alexander Sr., a Harlem YMCA and apartment manager, he told the Washington Post in 1977.

After graduating from Yale Law School, Alexander returned to Harlem to work for the community organization the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a local organization that worked to bring educational and professional opportunities to young Black Harlemites.

Wrote poet Langston Hughes of the program, "The long range objectives of HARYOU are aiding and abetting the young people of Harlem to change their world."

In later years, Alexander spoke out against what he deemed President Bill Clinton's superficial support of Black Americans and for President Barack Obama, whose campaign he championed.

Alexander told NPR in 2008 he could not support then-president George W. Bush because he lacked what Obama had: depth.

"We used to call them punks on the playground in Harlem," Alexander said. "What they would do, they would be all big and bad before the game started but once the game was started, they would often shy away because they didn't have the skills."

Read more about where Alexander's skills took him, his family, and the U.S. in the New York Times obituary here.

The article Clifford Alexander, First Black U.S. Army Secretary, Harlem Son, Dies appeared first on Harlem Patch.

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