African-American Women in the Military

Who is Marcelite J. Harris?

Marcelite Jordan Harris (1943–) became the first black woman brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, in 1990. She became the first black woman major general in 1995. Born in Houston, Texas, Harris’s ancestry can be traced back to slavery and reveals the achievements of her forebears. Her maternal great-great-grandfather was the mayor of Donaldsonville, Texas, and served in both houses of the state legislature. Her maternal great-grandfather founded the first school for blacks in Fort Worth, Texas. Harris was educated at Spelman College, Central Michigan University, Chapman College, the University of Maryland, and Harvard University. She entered the air force in 1965 through Officer Training School, and in 1971 she became the first black woman aircraft maintenance officer. (She had to apply three times before her application for training in aircraft maintenance was accepted.) In 1978, as commander of a cadet squadron at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Harris became one of the first two female air officer commanders. She retired from the air force in 1997. While in the service, she was the highest-ranking woman on active duty in the air force and the highest-ranking black woman in the Department of Defense. She also served for a time as social aide to President Jimmy Carter. Her many military honors include the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal. President Barack Obama appointed her to the Board of Visitors to the United States Air Force Academy.

Brigadier General Marcelite Harris was the first black woman to achieve that high rank in the air force.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy African American History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App