Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Yale Law School Mourns the Loss of Clifford L. Alexander Jr. ’58

Clifford Alexander Jr at a lectern in the Yale Law faculty lounge

Clifford L. Alexander Jr. ’58 LL.B. delivered a Dean's Lecture at the Law School in 2013.

Yale Law School mourns the passing of Clifford L. Alexander Jr. ’58 LL.B., a lawyer, business person, and statesman, who died on July 3 at the age of 88.

Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr. was born on Sept. 21, 1933 and raised in Harlem. After attending the Ethical Culture Fieldston School on a scholarship, in 1955 he graduated from Harvard, where he was the first Black student body president. He graduated from Yale Law School three years later. During his career, Alexander repeatedly broke racial barriers in his career even as he dedicated his life’s work to ending discrimination for others. Alexander served as a counselor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on race relations, as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Johnson administration, and as the first Black secretary of the Army in the Carter administration.  

“Cliff Alexander was a lion in our profession. He was a trailblazer for racial justice throughout his life, a fierce advocate for those in need, and a kind and wondrous soul. We honor his legacy and remember his contribution to this community and to our country,” said Dean Heather K. Gerken. “Our hearts go out to his family, including his wife, Adele, and his children, Elizabeth and Mark, who are also beloved members of our Yale community.”

After law school, Alexander served as an assistant district attorney under Frank S. Hogan and as executive director of the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a program established to improve Harlem’s schools and graduation rates.

Alexander moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the Kennedy administration in 1963. As Lyndon B. Johnson’s private adviser on civil rights, he played a role in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1967, he became chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he focused on fighting workplace discrimination against minorities as its first Black chairman. During that time, Alexander launched investigations and conducted congressional hearings that shined a spotlight on workplace inequality in various industries, from textiles to pharmaceuticals to Hollywood. In 1969, Alexander resigned in the face of a “crippling lack of administration support” for his work, according to The Washington Post.

In 1969, Alexander became the first Black partner at the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter, where he practiced corporate and discrimination law. He also recruited recent graduates from Howard University School of Law, the country’s oldest historically Black law school.

After he lost a close race for mayor of Washington, D.C. in 1974, Alexander continued practicing law until President Carter appointed him Secretary of the Army in 1977.

During his tenure, Alexander helped guide the Army’s transition to an all-volunteer force in the fraught period following the Vietnam War and worked to remove existing obstacles to racial minorities and women being considered for the rank of general.

Alexander left government service after President Reagan took office and founded the consulting firm Alexander & Associates with his wife, Adele Logan Alexander. They advised companies including Major League Baseball on minority recruiting and reducing racial inequality in their workplaces.

In addition to his wife, Alexander is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Alexander; his son, Mark Alexander ’92; and seven grandchildren.