Today in African-American Transportation History – February 22

Today in African-American Transportation History – 1997: A Trailblazer Retires from the U.S. Air Force

Harris_mjAfrican-American aviation pioneer and U.S. Air Force (USAF) Major General Marcelite Jordan Harris retired after more than three decades of service in the nation’s military aerial service branch.  Harris, who was born in Texas in 1943, initially sought to pursue a career in the theater and graduated from Spelman College in 1964 with a B.A. in speech and drama.  Ultimately, however, she decided to make a career out of the USAF instead and was admitted to that military branch’s Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Harris became the USAF’s first female aircraft maintenance officer.  She subsequently achieved other milestones, which included her promotion as the USAF’s first director of maintenance; in that role, she oversaw a workforce of 120,000 technicians and managers.  In 1995, Harris was promoted to major general and as a result became the first African-American female to attain that USAF rank.  This final assignment in her military career made her accountable for each and every aircraft used by the USAF.

When Harris retired two years later, she was not only the highest-ranking female USAF officer but also the highest-ranking African-American female officer within the entire U.S. Department of Defense.  Her trailblazing accomplishments throughout her military tenure earned her a place alongside such other aviation pioneers as Bessie Coleman, who in 1921 had become the first African-American woman to earn an airplane pilot’s license. Harris has also earned a number of awards, including one given by the National Organization of Tuskegee Airmen.  “You don’t have to be gifted, just dedicated,” she once said in an interview published in Jane’s Defense Weekly magazine. “There’s nothing mysterious about it.”

For more information on Marcelite J. Harris, please check out


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