White House appoints first Black cabinet member
On this date in 1955, E. Frederic Morrow became the first African-American to serve in an executive position on a United States president’s cabinet in the White House.
A graduate and a recipient of a law degree from Rutgers University, Morrow served as a NAACP field secretary before joining the U.S. Army Field Artillery in 1942. In four years, he was promoted from private to a major. The former CBS public affairs writer served as an administrative aid and advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on his campaign train in 1952.
Morrow was an adviser on business affairs in the Commerce Department before joining President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff as Administrative Officer for Special Projects, which he held from 1955 to 1961. As the sole African-American on a staff dealing with racial tensions related to integration, Morrow faced difficult personal and professional struggles in the White House. The Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. the Board of Education ruling, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the Little Rock crisis were the backdrop for Morrow’s White House years.
In an administration with a civil-rights policy that was at best cautious, Morrow was often frustrated and angered. Morrow, as a Black "first," found relations within the president’s "official family" to be "correct in conduct, but cold.”
Morrow later became the first Black vice president of the Bank of America, the world's largest privately-owned bank. In charge of the bank's international division, he monitored foreign loans and business development. Later he became an associate at the Education Testing Service in Princeton, NJ.
He published his autobiography, "Black Man in the White House," in 1963, leaving a valuable account of his experience as an African-American working in the Eisenhower inner circle, including his disappointment with the indecision of president’s civil rights policy.
Morrow died in August 1994 in New York's Mount Sinai Hospital of complications from a stroke.
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