Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr (born September 21, 1933) is an American lawyer, businessman and public servant He was the first African-American Secretary of the Army One of the first African Americans to rise to the highest levels of the United States government, Clifford L Alexander served in a succession of presidential administrations during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s A top advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, he became the head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, supervising governmental anti-discrimination efforts just as the civil rights movement was moving into high gear The culmination of his career was his service as Secretary of the Army during the administration of President Jimmy Carter Since leaving government service, he has remained active as a supporter of equal opportunity for African Americans Clifford Leopold Alexander was born on September 3, 1933, in New York City; his father was Jamaican by birth, and his mother came from the industrial New York suburb of Yonkers Alexander's administrative savvy might have been inherited from his father, who served as manager at a YMCA branch in the family's Harlem neighborhood, and also worked as a bank manager From his mother, he gained instincts for survival in political bureaucracies: she worked for New York City's welfare department for a time, served on a mayoral commission that worked to improve race relations in New York following World War II-era unrest, and finally became the first African American woman to serve as a Democratic representative in the electoral college, the group of state delegations whose voting formalizes the results of the U.
S presidential election every four years Alexander's work in these agencies attracted the attention of top officials in the administration of President John F Kennedy, who was seeking to increase the very small number of African Americans serving in national government posts After obtaining a job at the National Security Agency in 1963, Alexander reported to Bundy Among his duties, he was required to monitor the increasingly worrisome reports coming in from diplomats and intelligence officials about the escalation of the fighting in Vietnam Following President Kennedy's assassination, Alexander was appointed as deputy special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson In the wake of the Rev Martin Luther King Jr's march on Washington and the widespread attempts to dismantle the system of institutionalized segregation in the southern states, civil rights became an important national issue.
Alexander became one of Johnson's closest advisors on civil rights issues He helped shepherd the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress, and often bore the brunt of President Johnson's temperamental nature "Johnson certainly knew how to make you feel fully responsible for what he perceived to be your negligence," Alexander recalled in a 1995 American Visions memoir As associate (later deputy) special counsel to the President, Alexander proved to be an effective advocate for other African American who were seeking governmental jobs Alexander's work for Johnson was rewarded in 1967 when he was named chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) As one of the agencies that took the lead in enforcing new federal anti-discrimination statutes, the EEOC grew dramatically during Alexander's tenure, and launched investigations of hiring practices within major industries By Alexander's own estimation, the EEOC assisted 70,000 individuals, in comparison to 5,000 individuals assisted under the previous regime Among the large corporations questioned about their hiring practices were the three major television networks of the day, NBC, CBS, and ABC Network officials assured Alexander that their programming would strive to portray minority characters in a more favorable, less stereotypical manner Shortly after Republicans took control of the White House following the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, Alexander resigned as chairman of the EEOC.
He accused the Nixon administration of failing to support the commission's goals, left the EEOC permanently, and returned to his private law practice in Washington Alexander remained interested in Democratic politics and, in 1974, ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Washington DC against veteran politician Walter Washington He also worked as a Washington-area television talk show host during this period When the Democrats regained the White House in 1977, President Jimmy Carter named Alexander as Secretary of the Army In this role, Alexander guided the largest branch of the nation's armed forces as it made a critical transition to an all-volunteer force He was also responsible for managing a budget of $34 billion Alexander served as Secretary of the Army until President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 Like other government officials who had held high office, Alexander could have rested on his laurels and made a comfortable living as a Washington attorney or lobbyist.
Instead, he began a new career as a consultant, and used his influence to continue furthering the goal of equality in employment which he had championed for much of his adult life In 1981 he founded Alexander and Associates, which devoted its efforts to advising companies on how to increase minority hiring Alexander's most famous client was major league baseball, where African Americans have be traditionally underrepresented in management and administration roles In latter stages of his career, Alexander has emerged as an important spokesman for progressive ideals in matters of race "You [whites] see us as less than you are," he declared bluntly in testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee concerning the status of African American men in American society Quoted in the New York Times, Alexander went on to say that "[y]ou think that we are not as smart, not as energetic, not as well suited to supervise you as you are to supervise us" In a 1999 essay in the New York Times, Alexander wrote about the hearings being held concerning the underrepresentation of minorities in television Looking back on the hearings he himself had conducted in the late 1960s, he noted that the situation of minorities in television was "depressingly familiar," and sadly concluded that "history teaches us that skepticism rather than optimism is the order of the day" .