In Conversation with Howard N Lee, U.S. Army Veteran, Social Worker, Public Servant & Educator

Please join us on October 19, at 12 noon for a discussion with former Chapel Hill mayor, Howard N. Lee, on a lifetime of public service and community engagement with two UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students: Daniel Johnson, Roy H Park M.A. Fellow, Hussman School of Journalism; and Moriah James, doctoral student (Anthropology) and research assistant. Registration is required to receive the Zoom Webinar information.

Headshot photo of Howard Lee wearing a suit and blue tie

Howard Lee

Howard Nathaniel Lee, born July 28, 1934, grew up on a sharecropper’s farm in Lithonia, Georgia. He graduated from Bruce High School in 1953 and enrolled in Clark College in Atlanta later transferring to Fort Valley State College in Georgia, where he received a BA degree in Sociology in 1959. He was drafted and served two years in the United States Army, spending more than one year in Korea. After being honorably discharged in 1961, he worked as Juvenile Probation Officer in Savannah, Georgia. In 1964, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and received his master’s degree in 1966. Until 1975, Lee was a member of the faculty staff and an administrator at Duke University and visiting faculty appointment at North Carolina Central University.

In 1969, Lee was elected and served three terms (1975) as Mayor of Chapel Hill. Among his major initiatives was the implementation of the first police social work initiative, which is now the Police Crisis Unit within the Chapel Hill Police Department.

In 1976, he was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor but lost in a second primary run-off election. In 1977-1981, he served as Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, a cabinet-level position in the Governor Jim Hunt Administration.  Among his numerous achievements, he initiated a “Mountains to the Sea Hiking Trail,” which stretches from the North Carolina Mountains to the coast and guided the completion of the African Phase of the North Carolina Zoo.

1982-1991, he was a member of the School of Social Work faculty at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has lectured at numerous universities throughout the South and Nation.  Lee has contributed chapters to several books and has published articles in many professional, academic, and business publications.

In 2008, his biographical memoir, The Courage to Lead, One Man’s Journey in Public Service, was published. In the book, Lee shares his life story and insights about how he survived the oppressive gauntly of the Jim Crow-infested South, overcame obstacles, and broke racial barriers as he rose to positions of political prominence and power.

Lee served for 13 years in the North Carolina Senate; building his reputation as a fighter for education reform. He sponsored or co-sponsored several significant pieces of educational legislation, which included Smart Start, More at Four (a Pre-kindergarten program), the Excellent Schools Act for school reform, and the Safe Schools Act.

In 2003-2009, Lee served as Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education, and a member of the North Carolina Utilities Commission. He has been a successful entrepreneur, having founded and operated several successful business enterprises. From March 2009-September 2011, Lee served as the first Executive Director of the North Carolina Education Cabinet having been appointed by Governor Beverly Eaves Perdue.

In 2011, he founded the Howard N Lee Institute focussed on increasing the number of minority and disadvantaged students graduating from high school and prepared to succeed in a post-secondary institution.

Lee’s favorite hobbies include golf, tennis, singing, and creative writing. Howard and his wife, Lillian, a retired public-school teacher, live in Chapel Hill and are the proud parents of three grown children (Angela, Ricky, and Karin), two adult granddaughters, (Jaimie and Jillian), and one great-granddaughter (Noah Belle).

About the Moderators

Moriah James is a third year PhD student in UNC’s Department of Anthropology. After graduating with her BA in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, she worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture as a Robert F. Smith Fund Intern and was also employed by the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center. Moriah recently received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to support her upcoming dissertation research on Black elite identity formation. She will be defending her Master's thesis on class in Black communities this November.

Daniel Johnson served as a journalist with the United States Army in Iraq and is a Roy H. Park fellow at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC–Chapel Hill. He is currently studying Media and Communication, and he is the author of #Inherent Resolve, a book on his unit’s experience in the war against ISIS.