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The Cabinet of the United States, which is the principal advisory body to the president of the United States, has had altogether 35 African-American members, with one of them serving in multiple different positions for a total of 36 such appointments. Of that particular number, 25 unique Black individuals held a total of 26 permanent cabinet posts, serving as vice president or head of one of the federal executive departments, and 10 more held cabinet-level positions, which can differ under each president; no one officeholder served in both cabinet and cabinet-rank roles. The U.S. Census Bureau defines African Americans as citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black populations of Africa. The term is generally used for Americans with at least partial ancestry in any of the original peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. During the founding of the federal government, African Americans were consigned to a status of second-class citizenship or enslaved. No African American ever held a cabinet position before the Civil Rights Movement or the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions.
Robert C. Weaver became the first African-American to serve in a president's cabinet when he was appointed secretary of housing and urban development by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. Patricia Roberts Harris was the first black woman to serve in a presidential cabinet when she was named to the same position by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Two years later, Carter tapped her for secretary of health and human services,[a] thus making her the first African-American to hold two different cabinet positions.
On January 20, 2001, Colin Powell assumed the post of secretary of state under President George W. Bush, which made him the highest-ranked African-American among cabinet secretaries to enter the presidential line of succession at number four. Condoleezza Rice took over the same position during Bush's second term, making her the highest-placed black woman in line to the presidency. Kamala Harris replaced both Powell and Rice to become the highest-ranking African-American person ever to be in the line of succession upon being inaugurated vice president on January 20, 2021, alongside President Joe Biden.
President Bill Clinton named the most African-Americans as secretaries to his first-term Cabinet, with four: former DAV executive director Jesse Brown as secretary of veterans affairs; DNC chairman Ron Brown as secretary of commerce; U.S. representative Mike Espy (D-MS) as secretary of agriculture; and corporate director Hazel R. O'Leary as secretary of energy. Clinton exceeded that record by three, including cabinet reshuffles during his second term in office.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has had the most African-American secretaries, with six. The Department of Transportation has had three; the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, State, and Veterans Affairs have had two; the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, and Labor have had one. The departments of Interior and Treasury are the only existing executive departments that do not have African-American secretaries yet.
The totals for this list include only African-American presidential appointees confirmed (if necessary) by the United States Senate to cabinet or cabinet-level positions and taking their oath of office; they do not include acting officials or nominees awaiting confirmation.
The following list includes African-Americans who have held permanent positions in the Cabinet, all of whom are in the line of succession to the presidency. The table below is organized based on the beginning of their terms in office. Officeholders whose terms begin the same day are ranked according to presidential order of succession.
|No.||Portrait||Name||Office||Succession||Term start||Term end||Party||Administration(s)||Ref.|
|1||Robert C. Weaver*||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||January 18, 1966||December 18, 1968||Democratic||Johnson|||
|2||William Coleman*||Secretary of Transportation||14||March 7, 1975||January 20, 1977||Republican||Ford|||
|3||Patricia Harris||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||January 23, 1977||September 10, 1979||Democratic||Carter|||
|Secretary of Health and Human Services[a]||12||August 3, 1979||January 20, 1981|
|4||Samuel Pierce||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||January 23, 1981||January 20, 1989||Republican||Reagan|||
|5||Louis Sullivan||Secretary of Health and Human Services||12||March 1, 1989||January 20, 1993||Bush Sr.|||
|6||Mike Espy*||Secretary of Agriculture||9||January 22, 1993||December 31, 1994||Democratic||Clinton|||
|7||Ron Brown*||Secretary of Commerce||10||January 22, 1993||April 3, 1996|||
|8||Hazel R. O'Leary*||Secretary of Energy||15||January 22, 1993||January 20, 1997|||
|9||Jesse Brown*||Secretary of Veterans Affairs||17||January 22, 1993||July 13, 1997|||
|10||Rodney E. Slater||Secretary of Transportation||14||February 14, 1997||January 20, 2001|||
|11||Alexis Herman*||Secretary of Labor||11||May 1, 1997||January 20, 2001|||
|12||Togo D. West||Secretary of Veterans Affairs||17||May 4, 1998||July 25, 2000|||
|13||Colin Powell*||Secretary of State||4||January 20, 2001||January 26, 2005||Republican||Bush Jr.|||
|14||Rod Paige*||Secretary of Education||16||January 20, 2001||January 20, 2005|||
|15||Alphonso Jackson||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||August 31, 2004||April 18, 2008|||
|16||Condoleezza Rice||Secretary of State||4||January 26, 2005||January 20, 2009|||
|17||Eric Holder*||Attorney General||7||February 3, 2009||April 27, 2015||Democratic||Obama|||
|18||Anthony Foxx||Secretary of Transportation||14||July 2, 2013||January 20, 2017|||
|19||Jeh Johnson*||Secretary of Homeland Security||18||December 23, 2013||January 20, 2017|||
|20||Loretta Lynch||Attorney General||7||April 27, 2015||January 20, 2017|||
|21||John King||Secretary of Education||16||January 1, 2016||January 20, 2017|||
|22||Ben Carson||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||March 2, 2017||January 20, 2021||Republican||Trump|||
|23||Kamala Harris*||Vice President||1||January 20, 2021||Incumbent||Democratic||Biden|||
|24||Lloyd Austin*||Secretary of Defense||6||January 22, 2021||Incumbent|||
|25||Marcia Fudge||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||13||March 10, 2021||Incumbent|||
The president may designate or remove additional officials as cabinet members. These positions have not always been in the Cabinet, so some African American officeholders may not be listed.
The following list includes African-Americans who have held cabinet-rank positions, which can vary under each president. They are not in the line of succession and are not necessarily officers of the United States. The table below is organized based on the beginning of their terms in office while it was raised to cabinet-level status. Officeholders whose terms begin the same day are ranked alphabetically by last name.
|No.||Portrait||Name||Office||Term start||Term start||Party||Administration(s)||Ref.|
|1||Andrew Young*||United States Ambassador to the United Nations||January 30, 1977||September 23, 1979||Democratic||Carter|||
|2||Donald McHenry||United States Ambassador to the United Nations||September 23, 1979||January 20, 1981|||
|3||Franklin Raines*||Director of the Office of Management and Budget||April 13, 1996||May 21, 1998||Clinton|
|4||Lisa P. Jackson*||Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency||January 23, 2009||February 19, 2013||Obama|||
|5||Susan Rice||United States Ambassador to the United Nations||January 26, 2009||June 30, 2013|||
|6||Ron Kirk*||United States Trade Representative||March 18, 2009||March 15, 2013|||
|7||Linda Thomas-Greenfield||United States Ambassador to the United Nations||February 25, 2021||Incumbent||Biden|||
|8||Michael S. Regan||Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency||March 11, 2021||Incumbent|||
|9||Cecilia Rouse*||Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers||March 12, 2021||March 31, 2023|||
|10||Shalanda Young||Director of the Office of Management and Budget||March 17, 2022||Incumbent|||
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