Howard Nathaniel Lee
Early life and education
Howard Nathaniel Lee was born to Howard Lee and Lou Temple on July 28, 1934, on a sharecropper's farm outside Lithonia, Georgia. Lee graduated from Bruce Street High School in 1953, and began his freshman year at Clark College of Atlanta that fall. Lee transferred to Fort Valley State College in 1956 and graduated in 1959, the first member of his family to receive a college diploma.
Lee was drafted into the U.S. Army during the summer of 1959 and completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Lee received medical corpsman training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before being stationed at Fort Hood. While at Fort Hood, Lee organized two sit-ins in the town of Killeen. The second sit-in was reported back to Fort Hood, and Lee was stationed in Korea the next week. Lee served as an ambulance driver and assistant company clerk at Camp Casey until his honorable discharge in 1961.
Lee moved to Savannah, Georgia, served as a juvenile probation officer, and married Lillian Wesley in 1962. He moved to North Carolina in 1964 and received a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1965, he joined the faculties of Duke University and North Carolina Central University.
After encountering racial tension in his predominantly white Chapel Hill neighborhood, Lee decided to enter local politics. In February of 1969, Lee announced his mayoral candidacy. The ensuing election saw a record 4,734 votes cast. On May 6, 1969, Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill. He was the first African American to hold the position in a predominantly white city, and the first to do so in the South since Reconstruction. He won by a narrow margin but would go on to be re-elected twice, earning 64 percent of the vote in 1971 and 89 percent in 1973. Lee was reelected for a second term in 1971.
In 1976, Lee sought the Democratic Party nomination for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, but was defeated in the primary election. In 1977, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Lee as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, a post which he held until 1981.
Lee returned to electoral politics in 1990 when he was elected to the North Carolina Senate. He served from 1990 to 1994 and 1996 to 2002. While in the Senate, he concentrated particularly on issues affecting public education.
On May 1, 2003, the North Carolina State Board of Education elected him as its chairman, succeeding Phil Kirk. In 2009, Gov. Beverly Perdue announced that she was appointing Lee as the new executive director of the N.C. Education Cabinet, composed of leaders of public schools, community colleges and public and private universities. This meant Lee would give up his seat on the Board of Education.
- Oral History Interview with Howard Nathaniel Lee from Oral Histories of the American South
- Finding Aid: Billy E. Barnes Photographic Collection, 1959-1996, in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC-Chapel Hill
- "Mayors of Chapel Hill", "Town of Chapel Hill"
- "Biographical Conversations with Howard N. Lee", "UNC TV"
- Thomas, Harry, "Howard Lee: A Historical Mayoral Election", "Documenting the American South"
- "This Month in North Carolina History May 1969 - Howard Lee". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
- News & Observer: "Power shifts at public schools"