Robert C. Weaver

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Robert C. Weaver
Robert C. Weaver official portrait.jpg
1st United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
In office
January 18, 1966 – December 18, 1968
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Inaugural holder
Succeeded by Robert Coldwell Wood
Personal details
Born Robert Clifton Weaver
December 29, 1907
Washington, D.C.
Died July 17, 1997(1997-07-17) (aged 89)
Manhattan, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ella V. Haith
Education M Street High School
Alma mater Harvard University
(B.S.), (M.A.), and (Ph.D. 1934)

Robert Clifton Weaver (December 29, 1907 – July 17, 1997) served as the first United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.) from 1966 to 1968. He was also the first African American to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States. Prior to his appointment as cabinet officer, Weaver had been one of 45 prominent African Americans appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Black Cabinet, an informal group of African-American public policy advisers to Roosevelt. Weaver also directed federal programs during the administration of New Deal programs.

Early life and education[edit]

Weaver was born on December 29, 1907 into a middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His parents were Morgan Weaver, a postal worker, and Margaret Freeman, of mixed-race ancestry; they encouraged the boy in his academic studies. His maternal grandfather was Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman, the first African American to graduate from Harvard in dentistry.[1]

The young Weaver attended the M Street High School, now known as the Dunbar High School. The academic high school for blacks at a time of racial segregation had a national reputation for excellence. Weaver went on to Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor of science and master of arts degree. He also earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics, completing his doctorate in 1934.[1]

Marriage and family[edit]

Weaver married Ella V. Haith in 1935. They adopted a son, who died in 1962.


In 1933, Weaver worked as an aide to United States Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes.[2] Near the beginning of his career, but with a reputation for knowledge about housing issues, the young Weaver was appointed to a position in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1934, becoming one of his Black Cabinet.[3] Roosevelt appointed a total of 45 prominent blacks to positions in executive agencies, and called on them as informal advisers on issues related to African Americans, the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Weaver had numerous public policy positions, in between stints in academia. He was appointed state rent commissioner (1955–1959) under Governor W. Averell Harriman, becoming the first black State Cabinet member in New York. He was then named to New York City's Housing and Redevelopment Board. Next, he was recruited by newly elected president John F. Kennedy.[3]

Cabinet nomination[edit]

After election, Kennedy tried to establish a new cabinet department to deal with urban issues. It was to be called the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Postwar suburban development and economic restructuring were drawing population and jobs from the cities. The nation was faced with a stock of substandard, aged housing in many cities, and problems of unemployment.

In 1961, while trying to create HUD, Kennedy had done everything short of promising the new position to Weaver. He appointed him Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA),[3] a group of agencies which Kennedy wanted to raise to cabinet status.

"When Dr. Weaver joined the Kennedy Administration, whose Harvard connections extended to the occupant of the Oval Office, he held more Harvard degrees – three, including a doctorate in economics – than anyone else in the administration's upper ranks."[1]

Weaver with Lyndon Johnson at the White House for his swearing-in ceremony, 1966.

Republicans and southern Democrats opposed legislation to create the new department. The following year, Kennedy unsuccessfully tried to use his reorganization authority to create the department. As a result, Congress passed legislation prohibiting presidents from using that authority to create a new cabinet department, although the previous Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower administration had created the cabinet-level U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under that authority.

When the department was finally approved in 1965, many people thought that Weaver would be the best nominee. He had previously served in various posts in government with the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, as one of his unofficial Black Cabinet members.[3] In 1965, he was still Administrator of the HHFA, having been appointed by Kennedy. In public, Johnson reiterated Weaver's status as a potential nominee but would not promise him the position. In private, Johnson had strong reservations. He often held pro-and-con discussions with Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP.

He wanted a strong proponent for the new department. Johnson worried about Weaver's political sense. Johnson seriously considered other candidates, none of whom was black. He wanted a top administrator, but also someone who was exciting. Johnson was worried about how the new Secretary would interact with the Solid South, which was still predominately Democrat as most African Americans were still disenfranchised. This was expected to change as the federal government enforced civil rights and the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As candidates, Johnson considered the politician Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago; and the philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller.

Ultimately, Johnson believed that Weaver was the best-qualified administrator. Johnson's attitude was influenced by a report prepared at his request by his assistant Bill Moyers, who rated Weaver highly on potential effectiveness as the new Secretary. Moyers noted Weaver's strong accomplishments and ability to create teams. Ten days after Johnson's receiving the report, the president put forward the nomination and Weaver was successfully confirmed by the United States Senate.

Concern about the housing issues[edit]

Weaver expressed his concerns about African American’s housing issue before 1930 through the article “Negroes Need Housing”, which was published by the magazine “The Crisis”[4] He expressed that there were a great difference between people’s income and the cost of living; African Americans could not have enough housing supply because of many social factors. He then introduced the government’s housing program which specifically to let all the African Americans have the chance to buy or rent their house.

Weaver introduced the U.S Housing Program, which was established in 1937. The program would give financial support to the local housing department, which then lowered the rent of the housing for African Americans. The program decreased the average rent from $19.47 per month to $16.80 per month.

Despite the success of the housing program, Weaver claimed that it was not enough; there were still many African Americans that were under the average income, they could not afford both food and housing rental at the same time. Also, the housing program might not be helping them since those who were in the low-income group often live in the “colored neighborhood”, they were not able to travel freely in the city.

Weaver was in the New York state's rent commissioner, he then served as the vice chairman of the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board in 1960. Weaver contributed the compilation housing bill in 1961. He then took part in helping the lobby during the Senior Citizens Housing Act 1962.[5]

Later years[edit]

After serving under Johnson, Weaver became president of Baruch College in 1969. The following year, he became a professor of Urban Affairs at Hunter College in New York. He taught there until 1978.

Weaver died in Manhattan, New York on July 17, 1997, at the age of 89.[1]

Legacy and honors[edit]


Weaver wrote a number of books regarding black issues and urban housing, including:

  • Negro Labor: A National Problem (1946)
  • The Negro Ghetto (1948)
  • The Urban Complex: Human Values in Urban Life (1964)
  • Dilemmas of Urban America (1965)

Further reading[edit]

  • Pritchett, Wendell E. (October 1, 2008). Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City: The Life and Times of an Urban Reformer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 444. ISBN 978-0-226-68448-2. 

Primary sources[edit]

  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., 15 January 1965, 12:06pm, Citation # 6736, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Richard Daley, 15 September 1965, 9:40am, Citation # 8870, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Richard Daley, 1 December 1965, 9:56am, Citation # 9301, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins, 15 July 1965, 2:40pm, Citation # 8340, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins, 1 November 1965, 10:11am, Citation # 9101, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins, 4 November 1965, 10:50am, Citation # 9106, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins, 5 January 1966, 4:55pm, Citation # 9430, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Thurgood Marshall, 3 January 1965, 10:15am, Citation # 9403, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  • "Weaver, Robert Clifton." Infoplease.
  • Speech by Robert Weaver given on April 8, 1969. From the University of Alabama's Emphasis Symposium on Contemporary Issues.


  1. ^ a b c d James Barron, "Robert C. Weaver, 89, First Black Cabinet Member, Dies" The New York Times (July 19, 1997). Retrieved April 15, 2010
  2. ^ Chenrow, Fred; Chenrow, Carol (1973). Reading Exercises in Black History, Volume 1. Elizabethtown, PA: The Continental Press, Inc. p. 56. ISBN 08454-2107-7
  3. ^ a b c d "New Administration: Ornaments on the Tree" Time (January 6, 1961). Retrieved May 20, 2011
  4. ^ The Crisis. "Negroes Need Housing". Google Books. The Crisis Publishing Company. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  5. ^ "American President: A Reference Resource". University of Virginia Miller Center. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Jack T. Conway (Acting)
Administrator of Housing and Home Finance Agency
Succeeded by
Preceded by
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Succeeded by
Robert Coldwell Wood