U.S. Senator Harris Wofford has served his country for more than sixty years, starting when he volunteered for the Army Air Corps in World War II and continuing through government and community service during the terms of ten Presidents.
In the 1950s, Harris was an advisor to Martin Luther King, served as counsel to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and later was an associate professor at Notre Dame Law School. When Senator John Kennedy ran for President, Harris joined the campaign as civil rights coordinator. Upon Kennedy’s election, Harris served as the President’s Special Assistant for Civil Rights (1961-62) and helped Sargent Shriver launch the Peace Corps. In late 1962, Harris became director of Ethiopia’s large Peace Corps program and served as Special Representative to Africa. On his return, he became the Peace Corps Associate Director.
In the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Harris moved into academia, serving as President of the State University of New York’s new College at Old Westbury, and then as President of Bryn Mawr College.
Returning to government in the 1980s, Harris served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor and Industry. In 1991, after the death of Republican Senator John Heinz, Governor Bob Casey appointed Harris to fill the Senate seat during the six months before a special election. Facing an uphill campaign against U.S. Attorney General (and former Pennsylvania governor) Dick Thornburgh, Harris carried the banner of affordable health care for all – a message that helped take him from more than 40 points behind in the polls to an upset victory of 10 points. Harris became the first Democratic Senator to be elected in Pennsylvania in 29 years and brought health care to the national agenda.
While in the United States Senate, Harris played a key role in the legislation establishing the Corporation for National Service, that included the new AmeriCorps, and, with Representative John Lewis, initiated and authored the act establishing Martin Luther King Day as a day of service – a day on, not a day off. After Congressman Rick Santorum defeated Harris in the Republican wave of 1994, Harris was appointed by President Clinton as the CEO of the Corporation for National Service. Under his tenure, AmeriCorps grew to over 50,000 members.
In recent years, Wofford has been chair and then co-chair (with Alma Powell) of the America’s Promise Alliance for children and youth. He joined the campaign of Barack Obama as an official surrogate, speaking on his behalf in a number of states and introducing him for two major addresses – on race and on service. He advised Obama on the development of a comprehensive service and social innovation agenda, including the growth of AmeriCorps to 250,000 members that was authorized in the bi-partisan Edward M. Kennedy Act and enacted during President Obama’s first one hundred days.
Wofford has written numerous articles on national service, Gandhi, civil disobedience, civic engagement, education and politics, and four books including, Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties, 1980, and with his wife Clare, IndiaAfire, 1950.