Clifford Alexander Jr., civil rights icon and first Black Army secretary, dead at 88

The military and the civil rights world lost a legend over the weekend, as People reported that Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., the first Black U.S. secretary of the Army, died at the age of 88. 

Appointed by former President Jimmy Carter in 1977, Alexander Jr. change the political landscape with his appointment, opening up the door for minorities to serve in prestigious roles in U.S. government, especially on the military front.

People noted:

By the time he left the secretary position, Alexander had paved a path for more Black officers to become generals, including Colin Powell, who would later serve as the first Black Secretary of State.

He was primarily known for his long career as a public servant, having worked, People added, “as a top advisor to several other U.S. presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He was also a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement, helping craft the landmark Voters Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.”

Alexander held a number of accomplishments for being “first,” but another notable one was his appointment as the first Black student body president of Harvard University in 1955.

“Cliff saw his role as secretary of the Army as a key extension of the civil rights movement, and he inaugurated and enforced policies that were spectacularly effective in achieving his goal,” Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. told The New York Times.

Throughout his career, Alexander Jr. rubbed elbows with the top echelons of government figures, especially on the Democratic side, including former President Barack Obama, who released a touching tribute to his late friend over the weekend on Twitter.

Clearly, Alexander Jr. has left behind a unique legacy as one who truly shattered glass ceilings throughout the bulk of his career.