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Clifford Alexander Jr., First Black Secretary of the U.S. Army, Dies at 88

People logo People 7/5/2022 Amethyst Tate

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Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., the first African American named Secretary of the United States Army, died this weekend at 88.

Alexander succumbed to heart failure at his home in New York City on Sunday, his daughter, Elizabeth, told the New York Times.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Alexander — born in Harlem, New York, in 1933 — to the U.S. Army secretary role in 1977. His selection marked the first time a Black civilian became the head of any U.S. military branch, the Washington Post reported.

Alexander worked as a top advisor to several other U.S. presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He was also a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement, helping craft the landmark Voters Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

In 1955, Alexander graduated with Honors from Harvard University, where he became the institution's first Black student body president.

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"Cliff saw his role as secretary of the Army as a key extension of the civil rights movement, and he inaugurated and enforced policies that were spectacularly effective in achieving his goal," 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," he added.

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Alexander graduated from Yale Law School before joining the Johnson administration.

"I hope that I made a contribution in that time," he said prior to his death during an interview with FOX affiliate WNYW.

After leaving the government during the Nixon administration, Alexander became the first Black partner at a major D.C. law firm and hosted a syndicated news commentary show before Carter tapped him for the Army secretary position, according to the Post.

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"Inclusiveness is something that says 'if you see someone out here that can do the job, bring them on in,'" Alexander told WNYW.

By the time he left the secretary position, Alexander had paved a path for more Black officers to become generals, including Colin Powell, who would later serve as the first Black Secretary of State.

Alexander is survived by his two children, Mark and Elizabeth, and his wife, Adele, according to the Post.

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