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First Black Woman to Serve as Major General to be Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

"Know your job and do it well," Major General Marcelite Jordan Harris once said.

Major General Marcelite Jordan Harris, the first African-American female Major General in the U.S. Military, will be laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, alongside her husband, Lt. Col. Maurice Harris, USAF (Ret.).

Harris died unexpectedly on Sept. 7, 2018, at age 75. She served more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force in a variety of capacities.

Born Jan. 16, 1943 in Houston, Harris graduated from Kashmere High School before enrolling at Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1964. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Harris also received an honorary doctorate of letters from Spelman and earned a B.S. in Business Management at the University of Maryland University College.

The trailblazer received her commission through Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in 1965. During her tenure in the U.S. Air Force, she was the first woman aircraft maintenance officer and one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

It was a revolutionary time for women to be in the workforce.

"This was during the late 1960's," Harris told the Department of Defense in a 2013 interview. "The late '60s saw us do away with the draft. We saw civilian women going for equal pay with upward mobility. The world was just changing itself. Women were burning bras and everything in protest."

In 1975, she was named White House social aide and personnel staff officer under the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

She made history in 1991 when she became the first African-American female Brigadier General in the Air Force. Then, in 1994, she was named the first female director of maintenance and deputy chief of staff for logistics at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

At the Pentagon, she managed a work force of more than 125,000 technicians and managers and maintained the $260 billion Global Reach-Global Power aerospace weapons system inventory; she was promoted to Major General, according to her published obituary.

Her promotion made her the highest-ranking woman in the Air Force, and the highest-ranking Black woman in the entire Department of Defense. Before retiring in 1997, Harris helped establish a permanent office for the Committee on Women in NATO within the organization's existing Military Committee.

Former President Obama appointed Harris to the Board of Visitors of the Air Force Academy, from 2010 to 2016.

As well as having a thriving career, Harris also raised two children, Tenecia Harris and Lt. Col. Steven Harris.

The mother and history-maker offered the following career advice for those following her footsteps:

"Know your job and do it well. Know your people," she said, in an interview. "Nothing is denied you by going into the military. You are important. You're important to the mission and to the United States. You're important to the president. You are important, and that's what matters."

Harris was named Woman of the Year by the National Organization of Tuskegee Airmen in 1990, honored with the Trailblazer Award by the Black Girls Rock foundation, and received the Living Legacy Patriot Award by the Women's International Center, to name a few accolades.

A celebratory memorial service following the burial will be held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery.

Air Force's First Black Woman Lieutenant General to Enter Hall of Fame

Stayce Harris recently received a historic promotion from President Obama, and Women in Aviation International will soon honor her.

Gen. Darren W. McDew, the U.S. Transportation Command commander, watches as former Women Air Force Service Pilot Pauline Cutler-White and retired Col. Charles McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, pin new rank on Lt. Gen. Stayce D. Harris. (U.S. Air Force photo/Andy Morataya)

Lt. General Stayce D. Harris

Women in Aviation International (WAI) has announced Lt. General Stayce D. Harris, the highest-ranking African American woman military pilot in all the United States armed forces, will be inducted into its International Pioneer Hall of Fame in March.

President Barack Obama nominated Harris to the position of lieutenant general on June 7. The Senate then confirmed the nomination. At her promotion ceremony on August 26 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Harris received a third star and became the first female African American to ever achieve the rank of lieutenant general for the Air Force.

Former Women Air Force Service Pilot Pauline Cutler-White and retired Col. Charles McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, helped pin on the new rank. Harris said the renowned group of African American military pilots who fought in World War II inspired her.

"Two months before I went to pilot training, I was able to meet the Tuskegee Airmen, and so when you talk about the inspiration of your life, for me, it has been the Tuskegee Airmen," Harris said in an interview with The Undefeated.

She also said the Air Force embraces diversity:

"[Because] so many people of color and females had become general officers, I knew that the Air Force was more embracing of diversity and advancement for those that work hard to do the job."

Harris is also the first reservist to fill the position of the assistant vice chief of staff and director of the air staff. In addition, she serves as deputy chairman of the Air Force Council and is the Air Force accreditation official for the international Corps of Air Attachés.

Through the University of Southern California's (USC) ROTC program, Harris received a commission in the Air Force. She graduated from USC in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering and in 1987 received a master's degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Harris served on active duty until joining the Air Force Reserve in 1991. She has commanded an airlift squadron, an expeditionary operations group, an air refueling wing and a numbered air force.

A command pilot, Harris has logged more than 2,500 hours in military aircraft including the C-130H, KC-135R, C-141B/C, T-38 and T-37.

Prior to her current position, she served as the commander of the 22nd Air Force at Dobbins ARB, Georgia.

"I grew up as a military brat"

The lieutenant general, who was born in Los Angeles, followed in the footsteps of her father.

"My father was career enlisted in the Air Force, so I grew up as a military brat," she said in an interview with USC. "Basically, I've been serving ever since I was born. In my mind, all I wanted to do is grow up to be just like him."

Harris said every two years her family would move to "another exotic location," and she enjoyed the ability to travel the world.

Entering high school and taking Junior ROTC confirmed for Harris that she had "the propensity to serve and wanted to be an airman."

She told USC the "coolest" aircraft she's ever flown is the Northrop T-38 Talon. (Northrop Grumman is No. 31 on the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.)

"Part of completing training is to fly solo flights and so I remember soloing the T-38 on my birthday in 1984," Harris said. "Just the greatest thrill of all!"

The 2017 Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame inductees also include the first class of women naval aviators: Judith Neuffer, Barbara Allen, Jane Skiles, Ana Marie Scott, Joellen Drag and Rosemary Merims, as well as Elizabeth "Betty" Everts Greene (deceased), a trailblazer in humanitarian and missionary flying.

The 28th annual conference will take place March 2-4, 2017, at Disney's Coronado Spring Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (The Walt Disney Company is No. 38 on the DiversityInc Top 50 list.)

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