February 26: Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris graduated summa cum laude from Howard University and went on to be the first Black woman named as an American envoy when President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointee her as ambassador to Luxembourg.

“I feel deeply proud and grateful this President chose me to knock down this barrier, but also a little sad about being the ‘first Negro woman’ because it implies we were not considered before,” she said at the time.

Following the end of her diplomatic career, she assumed the role of dean of Howard University’s law school, making her the first Black woman head of a U.S. law school.

President Jimmy Carter appointed her as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1977, making her the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position. In that post, she called for an end to discriminatory housing and employment practices and worked hard to rebuild urban neighborhoods by urging businesses to invest in them.

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com