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Alumnae Stories

The Highest Ranking Female Officer is Laid to Rest

February 2019

Maj. General Marcelite Harris, C'64,  served in the U.S. Air Force and became the firstMaj. General Harris Bllack woman to rise to the rank of a two-star general in May 1995. She died, Sept. 7, 2018 at the age of 75 and was buried Feb. 7,  in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Harris was born Jan. 16, 1943 in Houston, Texas and dreamed of moving to New York City and becoming an actress. She graduated in 1964 from Spelman College with a degree in speech and drama before being commissioned in 1965 at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The trailblazer quickly moved up the ranks. During her career, “She held a variety of assignments, many of which the Air Force says resulted in historic ‘firsts’ for women in the military branch,” reports 11 Alive.

Harris became the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two woman air officers to command the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter's administrations.

She retired after 32 years of service as the highest ranking female officer and the United States’ highest ranking black woman in the Department of Defense.

Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, Inspector General of the Air Force, remarks on the Spelman alumnae's commitment to service as a mentor and leader by saying:

"[Maj. General Harris] poured so much of herself, personally and professional, into all of us and influenced so many — those she knew and those who knew her from afar."