Rafael Leon Cortada, Ph.D, was born on February 12, 1934, in New York City. His mother was a seamstress and his father was a postal worker. He attended Public Schools 99 and 39 until his family moved and enrolled him in a Catholic school. In 1951, Cortada received his high school diploma from St. Francis Xavier Military School in New York.
Shortly after earning his bachelor’s of arts degree in philosophy from Fordham University in 1955, he was drafted into the army and stationed in Korea. In 1958, he received his master’s degree in secondary education from Columbia University. He went on to further his education earning his Ph.D from Fordham in Latin American and modern European history in 1967.
Cortada taught high school history from 1957-1964 at New Rochelle High School in New York while working on his Ph.D. From 1964 to 1966, he taught Latin American history at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He then went on to work as a Foreign Service officer in the State Department from 1966 to 1969. From 1969 until 1974, Cortada taught at a number of colleges including Federal City College in Washington, D.C., Smith College in Massachusetts, Howard University, Medgar Evers College and Hostos Community College, both in New York.
In 1974, Cortada wrote and published his first and only book, Black Studies, An Urban Comparative Curriculum, and received his first job as a college president. From 1974 to 1977, Cortada served as president of Metropolitan Community College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He then moved back East and accepted the presidency at Community College of Baltimore, where he served from 1977-1982. From 1982 until 1987, he served as president of El Camino College in Torrance, California. In 1987, he was appointed president of the University of the District of Columbia and served in that post until 1990, when he was named president of Wayne County Community College in Detroit, Michigan. From 1994-1999, Cortada was president of Central Ohio Technical College in Newark, Ohio. From 1999 until his retirement in 2001, Cortada taught history education at Ohio State University at Newark.
Cortada passed away on April 11, 2017 at age 83.