Howard University’s history of producing trailblazing Black leaders on display with Harris pick

Sen. Kamala Harris’ selection as the first Black woman to be named to a major party’s presidential ticket has brought attention to her alma mater, Howard University, one of the country’s most prominent historically Black universities.

Howard University has a history of producing trailblazing political and civic leaders. Founded in 1867 on one of the highest hills in Washington, DC, the university has a deep connection to national politics and has served as a focal point for Black culture in the nation’s capital for generations.

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Harris has a deep connection to the university, especially Alpha Kappa Alpha — the nation’s oldest Black sorority, to which she pledged in 1986.

Howard has served as a starting block for many lawmakers at various levels of government, including the first Black Supreme Court justice, first Black US governor, first Black US ambassador to the United Nations and now the first Black woman to be picked as a vice presidential candidate.

Thurgood Marshall, first Black Supreme Court Justice

Marshall was born in Baltimore in 1908. He attended Howard University for law school and went on to argue monumental cases in front of the Supreme Court before being appointed as the high court’s first Black justice by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991.

There has only been one other Black justice in the Supreme Court’s history, Justice Clarence Thomas, who was selected to replace Marshall and still serves on the court.

Kamala Harris, first Black woman to serve as a vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket

Harris attended Howard University for her undergraduate education, majoring in political science and economics. In addition to her selection as presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, she also served as California’s attorney general — the first Black or Asian American of any gender to hold that role.

She is the first Black woman from California to serve in the US Senate, and the second from any state after Illinois’ Carol Moseley Braun.

Harris is also the first person of South Asian descent to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket.

L. Douglas Wilder, first elected Black governor

Wilder studied law at Howard University and after winning a special election in 1969, he became the first Black person to serve as a Virginia state senator since Reconstruction, according to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. In 1990, he became the 66th governor of Virginia and the first Black person elected as a governor in the United States.

Charlotte E. Ray, first Black woman to become a lawyer

Ray was the first female Black lawyer in the United States, according to She obtained her law degree from Howard University. She was admitted to the bar in 1872 but her career was short lived, reportedly due to prejudices against women and women of color especially.

Alphonso Michael Espy, first Black US secretary of agriculture

Espy graduated from Howard University in 1975. He was appointed as the first Black US secretary of agriculture in 1993.

Letitia James, first Black woman to hold statewide office in New York

James attended Howard University’s School of Law. She was elected as New York attorney general in 2018, becoming the first Black woman to hold a statewide office in New York and the first woman elected attorney general of the Empire State.