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Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris

Major General Marcelite J. Harris was born in Houston, Texas on January 16, 1943 to Cecil O’Neal Jordan and Marcelite Terrell Jordan, Sr. Harris graduated from Kashmere Gardens High School before attending Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1960. After graduating from Spelman with her B.A. degree in speech and drama in 1964, Harris enrolled at Lackland Air Force Base for military training and then joined the Women in the Air Force (WAF) program. She also earned her B.S. degree in business management from the University of Maryland.

Harris enrolled in an Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois in 1970. One year later, Harris was named a maintenance supervisor for the 49th Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. She successively held the positions of job control officer and field maintenance supervisor at the 916th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California. In 1975, Harris was named personnel staff officer and White House social aide under the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter presidential administrations before becoming an air officer commanding for the Cadet Squadron 39 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Harris then served as the maintenance control officer for the 384th Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. She was the first woman to hold the post of commander of the 384th Avionics Maintenance Squadron at the McConnell Air Force Base in 1981 before assuming the role of commander for the 384th Field Maintenance Squadron. In 1982, Harris was named the director of maintenance at the Pacific Air Forces Logistic Support Center at Kadena Air Base in Japan. Four years later, she became deputy commander for maintenance at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Harris was the first women to hold the positions in those just listed.

In 1990, Harris took the position of vice commander for the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base and later became the director of technical training at the Air Education and Training Command Headquarters at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. In 1994, Harris was named director of maintenance at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Before retiring from the Air Force, Harris helped to establish a permanent office for the Committee on Women in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), within its military committee.

Harris’s tenure with the Air Force saw her rise from the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1965 to Major General thirty years later, becoming the first ever African American Female General.
Harris joined the United States Alliance as Director of Operations Support and Logistics Processes in 1999. She also served a brief time as the chief of staff for New York Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In 2010, Harris was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the Board of Visitors for the United States Air Force Academy. She has been featured in Ebony and was the recipient of the Trailblazer Award by the Black Girls Rock Foundation. Harris is listed in many Who’s Who publications.

Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 21, 2012.

Harris passed away on September 7, 2018.

Accession Number

A2012.074

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/21/2012

Last Name

Harris

Maker Category
Middle Name

J

Occupation
Schools

Spelman College

University of Maryland

Harvard Kennedy School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Marcelite

Birth City, State, Country

Houston

HM ID

HAR33

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Let your reach far exceed your grasp.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Interview Description
Birth Date

1/16/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Barbecue

Death Date

9/7/2018

Short Description

Major general Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris (1943 - 2018) is the first African American woman ever to be named General in the United States Air Force and the first African American woman ever to become a Major General in the Department of Defense.

Employment

New York City Board of Education

United Space Alliance

United States Air Force

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marcelite Harris' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris describes her maternal great-great grandfather's life as a slave and his success as a blacksmith as a free man

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris talks about her mother's growing up in Houston, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about her parents' education and their life in Houston, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marcelite Harris talks about how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Marcelite Harris talks about her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Marcelite Harris describes her likeness to her father and Pilgrim Congregational Church

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Marcelite Harris describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Houston, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris talks about her personality and her interests as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris talks about her family's first television set

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris describes her experience in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris talks about attending high school in Houston during the era of segregation, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris talks about attending high school in Houston during the era of segregation, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about her favorite teacher in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience in high school and going to the senior prom

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris describes her extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris describes her decision to attend Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris talks about here experience at Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris talks about majoring in speech and drama at Spelman College and President Kennedy's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris discusses the Civil Rights Movement and her involvement in the Student Movement while attending Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris discusses the Civil Rights Movement and the Student Movement in Atlanta in the early 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris talks about Lonnie C. King, Jr., and reflects upon the problems faced by the African American community

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about looking for a job in theatre, law school, and becoming a teacher in the Head Start Program

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Marcelite Harris describes her decision to join the U.S. Air Force in 1965

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris describes her experience in officer training school at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris talks about her assignment in the 60th Military Airlift Wing at Travis AFB

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris talks about her assignment at the 71st Tactical Mission Squadron at Bitburg Air Base in West Germany

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience as an African American and as a woman in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris talks about being titled as 'Miss Zero Defects' at Bitburg Air Base in West Germany

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris talks about being assigned as a maintenance analysis officer and the role of women in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience at maintenance officer school at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience as maintenance supervisor for the 49th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Thailand

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris talks about having to fire a master sergeant

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris recalls handling a difficult situation concerning the inspection of ten F-4 planes

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris explains how on-the-job training helped develop her leadership skills

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris comments on the war in Vietnam

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris describes her experience as job control officer at Travis Air Force Base

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris talks about taking charge of the field maintenance squadron

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris explains her supervisor's philosophy

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about standards in the military that were aimed at blacks and their hair

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Marcelite Harris comments on the lack of recognition for black culture in the military

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris talks about being a member of the Air Force Management Improvement Group

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris talks about being a White House aide and being promoted to Major

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience as Air Office Commanding at the Air Force Academy, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris talks about her experience as Air Office Commanding at the Air Force Academy, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris talks about her marriage to her husband

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris describes her promotion to lieutenant colonel and the birth of her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris talks about her performance reports and being commander of Pack Aff Aircraft Logistics

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about her assignment to Keesler Air Force Base in 1986

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris talks about the publicity she and her family received after she was promoted to brigadier general

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris discusses the roadblocks to her promotion as Major General

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris discusses her participation in NATO's Committee on Women, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris discusses her participation in NATO's Committee on Women, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris talks about her retirement, her high blood pressure and the death of her husband

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Marcelite Harris discusses her post retirement activities, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Marcelite Harris discusses her post retirement activities, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Marcelite Harris talks about her political plans and activities

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Marcelite Harris describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Marcelite Harris talks about the burdens for minorities in the military and befriending Daniel "Chappie" James

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Marcelite Harris reflects upon her legacy and her regrets

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Marcelite Harris discusses her family and how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Marcelite Harris describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

7$7

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Marcelite Harris discusses her participation in NATO's Committee on Women, pt. 2
Marcelite Harris discusses the roadblocks to her promotion as Major General
Transcript
I went to NATO. I met quite a few people; especially African American and women officers. And I took my women officers to NATO with me, took Tenecia with me, and there in Brussels; sat around the table, and I kind of outlined what I wanted. I didn't fill in the middle, because that is what I wanted the committee to do, was to fill in the middle of it. So when we had the meeting in NATO that next year, that's what I had them do. I broke everybody up, and I let them decide, "which committee do you want to work on?" Well, the British girl, who wasn't even a part of the committee anymore, the colonel from Britain, was all upset with me because I had--she wanted to--she had a way that she wanted it to be, but she was no longer on the committee; I'm in charge. You know, we gone(sp) do it my way. She wrote this letter about how Britain is abstaining from everything, and the British don't like this, and the British--and she passed it out to everyone of my members. I was livid. I told her--I had a closed meeting. The meetings in NATO were open, and you could bring as many military folks or civilians, or what have you, in there. So I just had a closed meeting, and I talked to those young ladies, and was older than all of them; they were so young. All the other services have women who are so much, you know, that are new to this function of air force, and the Portuguese are probably the latest to come in in the utilization of women. So I talked to them, and I told them about what was happening, what was going on and about loyalty, and what we do here. Everyone of them said, we don't feel this way, you know, general, we don't feel this way. I said okay. So we organized that way. And I was concerned about the treatment that the American women receive from countries where NATO was located--NATO forces were located and from some of the countries that NATO--the NATO--the U.S. people would be working with. Some of those countries, women are still subservient, and not in the progressive position that we are in the United States. And the expectations for my women, the U.S. women, probably would be a lot higher. So what I did is I got the United States to establish a pay-for position in NATO that would look after--it's kind of like the Committee on Women in the air force, the services, WAF [Women in the Air Force] and the WAC [Women's Army Corps] and all of those kind of ser--of things. They would look at the issues that impacted the women in those various countries and see what can be done, and to work with the NATO senior officers there to see if they could do some influence. I got all kind of kudos from the commander there from NATO on what we had done as a committee and what I had done as a committee. Got to go to Turkey. That was--the Turkish finally had it--had the committee, and got to go there. My trip to Turkey, I was still in charge, for some reason, I was retired then, though, on my trip to Turkey. But the Service paid my way--brought me in and paid my way and everything, because I was still a (unclear) and took me back. And we finally led the U.S. Got another U.S. delegate in for the remainder of the conferences.$But I'm also a woman who has some unique demographics. My career was nontraditional career field for women, I'm African American, I'm a woman and I'm a general. So I was called to sit on so many promotion boards. So many promotions boards that when it came my time to go up for two stars, my boss knocked me down. Here I get started again with my boss knocking me down on my performance report. And he said, "I did that because I think you need to stay under me a year longer because they pull you away from so many things." And I told him, I said, "You just don't work the assignment system with the promotion system. If you wanted me a year longer, don't block my promotion--block my promotion to keep me there." Well, the next year had to be '93 (1993), yeah, had to be '93 (1993), I guess. Anyway, that year, he came again when I'm supposed to be rated for general, two-star general, and he calls the four star and said, "Okay, you can promote Marci this time." And the four-star general said, "You killed Marci last year." So he tried--this is Joseph Spiers(sp). I'll never forget him. And so he gets me assigned under a four-star general at air education and training command in '93 (1993). And I worked for General Visoyal(sp). I had worked for him for three months, and he called and he said, "You're really good', he said, 'but you haven't been here long.'" So he rated me number three out of his six generals--six brigadier generals. He had more generals. But six brigadier generals, one stars. I didn't get promoted again. And I just couldn't take it. I said, "Okay. I'm going, I'll get out." He called me and he said, "I can't make you any promises, but why don't you stay in, and let's see what happens." Well, the next year, he rated me number one, and I got picked up for major general, even after all those strange reports I got in my records.$$So this was 1995?$$Yeah. I think I pinned on major general in '96 (1996).