Kamala Harris is the highest-ranking African American to serve in a Cabinet as Vice President of the United States.
Colin Powell smiling with eye glasses wearing a dark suit jacket, white button-shirt with collar, and a solid burgundy tie. The United States flag is in the background.
Condoleezza Rice smiling wearing a dark blue jacket over a patterned blouse. The United States flag is in the background.
Colin Powell (left) and Condoleezza Rice (right) are the highest-ranking African Americans to lead the Federal Executive Department; each held the post of Secretary of State.

The Cabinet of the United States has had 23 African-American appointed officers serving as secretaries of one or more of the United States federal executive departments and eight African-Americans as Cabinet-level officials; with one of them appointed at the helm of the different departments. The vice president historically is also part of the Cabinet, ready to assume the Presidency should the need arise; to date, one African-American has been elected to the position. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

Robert C. Weaver became the first African-American to hold a Cabinet position when he was appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.[4] Patricia Roberts Harris became the first Black woman to serve in the Cabinet when she was also appointed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1977. Harris became the first African-American to have held two different Cabinet positions when President Jimmy Carter subsequently appointed her Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1979. This position was renamed the Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1980.[5]

Colin Powell was appointed Secretary of State in 2001 and thus became the highest-ranking African American in the United States presidential line of succession in the country's history, up to that time. Condoleezza Rice became the highest-ranking black woman in line of succession when she was appointed to the same position in 2005. On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris replaced both Powell and Rice as the highest-ranking African American person in the line when she was inaugurated as Vice President.[6][7]

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 defunct Department of Health, Education, and Welfare also had one African-American secretary. The departments of Interior and Treasury are the only existing Cabinet departments that have not had African-American secretaries yet. President Bill Clinton has appointed the most African Americans to the Cabinet during his tenure, with a total of seven.

African-American vice presidents

Numerical order represents the seniority of the Officer in the United States presidential line of succession.[7]

 *  denotes the first African-American vice president
# Name Position Year elected
or appointed
Party Administration Ref.
1 Kamala Harris* Vice President 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [6]

African-American secretaries

Current departments

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver was the first African American to hold a Cabinet position.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver was the first African American to hold a Cabinet position.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African-American woman to serve in the Cabinet.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African-American woman to serve in the Cabinet.

Numerical order represents the seniority of the secretaries in the United States presidential line of succession.[7]

 *  denotes the first African-American secretary of that particular department
# Name Position Year
appointed
Party Administration Ref.
4 Colin Powell* Secretary of State 2001 Republican George W. Bush [8]
4 Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State 2005 Republican George W. Bush [9]
5  — [a] Secretary of the Treasury  — [a]  — [a]  — [a]  —
6 Lloyd Austin* Secretary of Defense 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [10]
7 Eric Holder* Attorney General 2009 Democratic Barack Obama [11]
7 Loretta Lynch Attorney General 2015 Democratic Barack Obama [12]
8  — [b] Secretary of the Interior  — [b]  — [b]  — [b]  —
9 Mike Espy* Secretary of Agriculture 1993 Democratic Bill Clinton [13]
10 Ron Brown* Secretary of Commerce 1993 Democratic Bill Clinton [14]
11 Alexis Herman* Secretary of Labor 1997 Democratic Bill Clinton [15][16]
12 Patricia Roberts Harris* Secretary of Health and Human Services 1980 Democratic Jimmy Carter [5]
12 Louis Wade Sullivan Secretary of Health and Human Services 1989 Republican George H. W. Bush [17]
13 Robert C. Weaver* Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1966 Democratic Lyndon B. Johnson [4]
13 Patricia Roberts Harris Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1977 Democratic Jimmy Carter [5]
13 Samuel Pierce Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1981 Republican Ronald Reagan [18]
13 Alphonso Jackson Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 2004 Republican George W. Bush [19]
13 Ben Carson Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 2017 Republican Donald Trump [20]
13 Marcia Fudge Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [21]
14 William Thaddeus Coleman Jr.* Secretary of Transportation 1975 Republican Gerald Ford [22]
14 Rodney E. Slater Secretary of Transportation 1997 Democratic Bill Clinton [23]
14 Anthony Foxx Secretary of Transportation 2013 Democratic Barack Obama [24]
15 Hazel R. O'Leary* Secretary of Energy 1993 Democratic Bill Clinton [25]
16 Rod Paige* Secretary of Education 2001 Republican George W. Bush [26]
16 John King Jr. Secretary of Education 2016 Democratic Barack Obama [27]
17 Jesse Brown* Secretary of Veterans Affairs 1993 Democratic Bill Clinton [28]
17 Togo D. West Jr. Secretary of Veterans Affairs 1998 Democratic Bill Clinton [29]
18 Jeh Johnson* Secretary of Homeland Security 2013 Democratic Barack Obama [30]

Defunct departments

The departments are listed in order of their establishment or elevation to Cabinet (earliest first).

 *  denotes the first African-American secretary of that particular department
# Name Position Year
appointed
Party Administration Ref.
1  — [с] Secretary of War  — [с]  — [c]  — [с]  —
2  — [d] Secretary of the Navy  — [d]  — [d]  — [d]  —
3  — [e] Postmaster General  — [e]  — [e]  — [e]  —
4  — [f] Secretary of Commerce and Labor  — [f]  — [f]  — [f]  —
5  —[g] Secretary of the Air Force  —[g]  —[g]  —[g]  —
6  —[h] Secretary of the Army  —[h]  —[h]  —[h]  —
7 Patricia Roberts Harris* Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare 1979 Democratic Jimmy Carter [5]

African-American Cabinet-level officials

The president may designate additional officials as members of the Cabinet. 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-level positions other than the 15 executive departments. The table below is organized based on the time at which an African-American was appointed to a cabinet-level position.

 *  denotes the first African-American head of that particular agency
Name Position Year
appointed
Party Administration Ref.
Andrew Young* Ambassador to the United Nations 1977 Democratic Jimmy Carter [31]
Donald McHenry Ambassador to the United Nations 1979 Democratic Jimmy Carter [32]
Franklin Raines* Director of the Office of Management and Budget 1996 Democratic Bill Clinton
Lisa P. Jackson* Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency 2009 Democratic Barack Obama [33]
Susan Rice Ambassador to the United Nations 2009 Democratic Barack Obama [34]
Ron Kirk* Trade Representative 2009 Democratic Barack Obama [35]
Linda Thomas-Greenfield Ambassador to the United Nations 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [36]
Cecilia Rouse* Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [37]
Michael S. Regan Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [38]
Shalanda Young Director of the Office of Management and Budget 2022 Democratic Joe Biden [39]

See also

Notes

References

  1. ^ "The Black Population: 2010" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 22, 2014.
  2. ^ "Time Line of African American History, 1881–1900". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 22, 2007.
  3. ^ "Transcript of Civil Rights Act (1964)". Retrieved February 8, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Weil, Martin (July 20, 1997). "Robert C. Weaver Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d Boyd, Gerald M. (March 24, 1985). "Patricia R. Harris, Carter Aide, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Schaff, Erin (November 7, 2020). "Kamala Harris Makes History as First Woman and Woman of Color as Vice President". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Feerick, John. "Essays on Amendment XXV: Presidential Succession". The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. The Heritage Foundation. Archived from the original on August 22, 2020. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  8. ^ Anderson, Nick (January 21, 2001). "Senate Gives Quick Approval to 7 Bush Cabinet Appointees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
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  25. ^ Harrington, Linda M. (May 1, 1994). "No Pie in the Sky". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  26. ^ Schemo, Diana Jean (November 12, 2004). "Education Secretary Plans to Resign". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  27. ^ Resmovits, Joy (March 20, 2016). "New Education Secretary John B. King Jr. knows the value of a second chance". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  28. ^ Barringer, Felicity (December 18, 1992). "The Transition: Clinton Selects Ex-Mayor for H.U.D. and an Ex-Marine for Veterans Affairs; Defender of the Rights of Veterans Masters Thickets of Regulations". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
  29. ^ Roberts, Sam (March 13, 2018). "Togo West Jr., 75, Dies; Army Secretary in Time of Transition". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  30. ^ Saenz, Arlette (December 17, 2013). "Senate Confirms Jeh Johnson as DHS Secretary". ABC News. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  31. ^ Lelyveld, Joseph (February 6, 1977). "Our new voice at the U.N." The New York Times. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  32. ^ Teltsch, Kathleen (September 1, 1979). "M'HENRY APPOINTED TO YYOUNG'S U.N. JOB". The New York Times. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
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  37. ^ Tankersley, Jim (March 2, 2021). "Senate confirms Cecilia Rouse as the first Black chair of White House economic council". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  38. ^ Stark, Liz (March 10, 2021). "Senate confirms Michael Regan as head of Environmental Protection Agency". CNN. Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  39. ^ Sullivan, Kate; Zaslav, Ali (March 15, 2022). "Shalanda Young becomes first Black woman to lead White House budget office following Senate confirmation". CNN. Retrieved March 16, 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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