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Clifford Alexander,...

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

An iconic member of the Army has passed away.

Clifford Alexander Jr., the first Black Army Secretary in the U.S. military, died at the age of 88, which his daughter –poet Elizabeth Alexander– said was caused by heart failure. Born in Harlem, he’d also served his community when he ran the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The coveted role of secretary of the Army is a most senior position within the USA’s Department of Defense and oversees everything from manpower and personnel to weapons and financial management. Alexander served in the job from February 14, 1977, to January 20, 1981, after being appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

Alexander got his start back in the late 1950s when he first passed the bar and became assistant district attorney for New York County. Then, he turned his interests to D.C. politics when John F. Kennedy‘s administration asked him to sign on as a foreign affairs officer which would later allow him to become the deputy special counsel to the White House staff under Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Harlem native would eventually run an unsuccessful Mayoral campaign in D.C. while dabbling as a professor at Howard University and a news commentator.

He also worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr., and during an interview for HBO’s “King in the Wilderness,” Documentary told the story of how he got Coretta Scott King to sing the national anthem at the White House.

“Well, when I ran the White House Conference to Fulfill These Rights, we had a dinner for all the people, and Thurgood was going to be speaking, and Lyndon Johnson was going to be speaking,” the Harlem graduate said in 2017. And Martin came up to me and asked for a favor. Said, ‘Could Coretta sing the national anthem?’ So, Coretta sang the national anthem. But that’s the kind of man he was, his wife was an opera singer and she sang quite effectively the national anthem. But again, he didn’t say ‘Cliff, this is what I want. This is what I’ve done for you up here.’ That’s not the way he was and never was that way.”