Honorary Degree

Howard N. Lee

Doctor of Laws

Howard N. Lee

A highly esteemed North Carolinian, Howard Lee has rendered outstanding service to the state and this University in numerous ways over more than six decades.

The son of a Georgia sharecropper, Lee graduated from Fort Valley State College before enrolling as a graduate student at Carolina, where he earned a Master of Social Work in 1966. Three years later, he was elected mayor of Chapel Hill, becoming the first African American to be elected mayor of a majority-white Southern city since Reconstruction. After serving three terms, Lee was appointed as North Carolina’s Secretary of Natural Resources and Community Development, a post he held from 1977 to 1981. As secretary, Lee delivered a speech calling for a “state trail from the mountains to the coast, a trail leading through communities as well as natural areas”—an idea that sparked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.

Lee was later elected to the North Carolina Senate, where he served for a decade. He subsequently served as chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education and as a member of the state’s Utilities Commission. In 2009 he was named the first executive director of the North Carolina Education Cabinet. Lee’s service to higher education included a stint on the faculty of the UNC School of Social Work and of North Carolina Central University, and he was an administrator at Duke University. Throughout his career, Lee has been a strong advocate for education reform, fighting for increased funding and standards.

In 2008, Lee published The Courage to Lead, One Man’s Journey in Public Service, a memoir in which he shares how he survived the Jim Crow South and broke racial barriers as he rose to a position of political prominence and power. In 2011 Lee was recognized with the General Alumni Association’s Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumnus Award.

For outstanding accomplishment in public service, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is pleased to confer on Howard N. Lee the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

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