Aug. 3, 1979
Patricia Roberts Harris began serving as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter after serving for two years as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It was one of many firsts for Harris.
She became involved in the civil rights movement while attending Howard University, taking part in a sit-in. She was the first Black woman to serve in the presidential cabinet and the first Black woman to enter the presidential line of succession.
When someone questioned her ability to represent the underclass, she shot back, “You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a Black woman, the daughter of a Pullman (railroad) car waiter. I am a Black woman who even eight years ago could not buy a house in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong.”