Remembering Major General Marcelite J. Harris: The First Black Female Major General In The US Military

Born Marcelite Jordan in Houston, Texas, Major General Marcelite Harris was highly distinguished in her chosen career. A history maker, she rewrote the history pages several times, establishing herself as a woman of “firsts.”

She was the first woman aircraft maintenance officer for the United States Air Force; she was the first woman deputy commander for maintenance; she was one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Starting Out: Harris had wanted to move to New York to become an actress, but there was one obstacle.

“Her father told her she could only move to New York if she had a job after graduating college,” her daughter, Tenecia Harris, 37, told NBCBLK. “But that’s not really how acting works.”

Upon graduating from Spelman College in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama, Harris couldn’t find a job performing, so she opted for the Air Force instead. She quickly moved up the ranks, super accomplished, Harris established herself a force.

Major General Marcelite J. Harris after nothing less than a distinguished career retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1997 as the highest ranking female officer in the Air Force and the Nation’s highest ranking African American woman in the Department of Defense

General Harris served from September 1975- May 1978 as a personnel staff officer and White House social aide, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

As Director of Maintenance, General Harris successfully organized, trained and equipped a work force of more than 120,000 technicians and managers, and maintained a $260 billion plus Global Reach Global Power aerospace weapons systems inventory, She developed maintenance policy, ensuring the readiness of the single largest element of manpower supporting Air Force combat forces worldwide.

Marcelite Harris’s excellent service deservedly earned her an array of accolades and awards including the National Organization of Tuskegee Airman, naming her Woman of the Year. Harris was named “Military African American Woman” for contributions to the Department of Defense, National Political Congress of Black Women. She was noted as “Black Woman of Courage” by the National Federation of Black Women Business Owners. Harris received the prestigious ‘Ellis Island Medal of Honor.”

General Harris’ service medals and decorations include the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal, the 1998 Living Legacy Patriot Award to Marcelite J. Harris, among others.

Jordan graduated from Spelman College, earning her B.A. of arts degree in speech and drama in 1964.

Born Jan. 16, 1943, Harris, died on Sept. 7, 2018 at 75.

 

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