Clifford L. Alexander, Jr.
National Visionary

Born September 21, 1933 in New York, NY

First African American Secretary of the Army; attorney; businessman; presidential adviser and counsel; former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In 1977, Clifford L. Alexander Jr. became the first African American Secretary of the Army. Throughout his career--as an attorney, businessman and public servant--Alexander has worked to improve living and working conditions for minorities and women. He played a role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other civil rights legislation, and helped guide the Army's transition to an all-volunteer force.

Alexander with his mother and father.
Alexander was born on September 21, 1933 in New York City. His father, who was born in Jamaica, oversaw a YMCA branch and managed a bank branch in Harlem, where the family lived.  Alexander's mother, Edith McAllister Alexander, from Yonkers, N.Y., worked for the city's welfare department and on mayoral commissions to improve race relations. She was the first African American woman chosen as a Democratic representative to the Electoral College.

Alexander's parents valued and encouraged his education. He graduated in 1951 from Fieldston, a private high school in New York City, and went on to Harvard University, where he was elected the first African American student body president and graduated cum laude in 1955 with a B.A. in government. In 1958, he earned a law degree from Yale University.

Soon thereafter, while serving with the Army National Guard, Alexander became an assistant New York County district attorney.  In 1961, he became executive director of Manhattanville-Hamilton-Grange Neighborhood Conservation Project, working to improve housing conditions. He then served a year as executive director of the federal government's Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy brought the twenty-nine year-old Alexander to Washington, D.C. to serve on the National Security Council. From 1964 through 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Alexander as deputy assistant, deputy special counsel, and then associate special counsel to the president. He became one of Johnson's closest advisers on civil rights as well as many other matters.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In an oft-quoted story, after talking with Alexander about proposed voting rights legislation, the journalist Carl Rowan leaked the story to the Washington Star, which improperly ran it prior to the approved release time.  Johnson, who feared that the premature release might jeopardize the legislation's passage, was furious. "Talk about devastated!" Alexander recalled. "Here my career was tied to the enhancement of rights for my people, and now a story that I had been instructed to release appeared ahead of time, with the result that there might be no Voting Rights Act at all." That evening, however, the president lauded Alexander "as one of his brightest and most trusted aides."  "It was quite a day at LBJ's White House," Alexander recalled, "an afternoon of chewing out by the president...followed by public signs of presidential favor." The 1965 Voting Rights Act, of course, was indeed passed and Johnson gave Alexander one of the pens he used to sign the bill into law as a token of his respect and appreciation.

Also under Johnson, Alexander was appointed, confirmed and then served as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1967 to 1969.  Under his leadership the EEOC assisted about 70,000 people, compared with only 5,000 under the previous chairman. In widely publicized hearings, Alexander questioned a variety of large employers about their hiring practices and also gained assurances from the major TV networks that they would strive to portray minorities in less demeaning fashions.  One of the networks hired the very first minority as a national reporter just a few weeks after those public hearings in New York.

Leaving government service in 1969, Alexander became the first black partner at a major Washington law firm when he joined Arnold & Porter.  He then went on to Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Alexander. In this period, he also taught law at Howard University and Georgetown University Law Center, ran unsuccessfully in the District of Columbia's first mayoral election in more than a century, became a television news commentator, and had his own syndicated program, "Cliff Alexander, Black on White."

Alexander with President Jimmy Carter.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Alexander as Secretary of the Army, a position that he held until 1981. As secretary, Alexander tackled many existing problems, such as inequitable procurement procedures and the unequal treatment of women and minorities in uniform.  He successfully guided the Army's transition to an all-volunteer force and promoted thirty blacks to general, including the first black woman.

In 1981, he founded Alexander & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that advises corporations on workforce inclusiveness.  Alexander serves on the boards of Mutual of America Life Insurance Company and several Dreyfus mutual funds. He has been chairman and CEO of the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, and chairman of Moody's Corporation.

Alexander lives in Washington, DC with his wife Adele Logan Alexander, a professor at George Washington University, whom he married in 1959. Their daughter Elizabeth is a professor at Yale University and a poet.  Their son Mark, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, is presently on leave working as policy director for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.


Clifford L. Alexander, Jr's Wikipedia Page

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