Timeline

October 1933: Howard Lee's parents, Howard Lee and Lou Temple, are married.

July 28, 1934: Howard Nathaniel Lee is born on a sharecropper's farm in the outskirts of Lithonia, Georgia.

September 1936: Howard Lee's parents leave the farm and move into a small house in town. They share the house with a white woman named Mrs. Darden. Young Howard Lee stays on the farm with his grandparents.

September 1939: Howard Lee's mother enrolls him in first grade--the grade she teaches--but at the end of the school year, decides to deny him promotion to second grade.

Spring 1942: Howard Lee's grandparents leave the Lithonia farm and move, with their grandson, to the Darden house.

Late 1940s: Black soldiers returning from World War II are outraged to reenter a Jim Crow society after risking their lives for their country. One soldier in Lithonia, Willie "Little Brother" Cooksey, whistles at a white girl at a local construction site. The next day, Little Brother's body is found bound to railroad tracks. Lee's grandfather, Walter Homer Lee, tells his grandson to learn from Cooksey's fate. When young Howard says that he thinks it's cowardly not to stand up and resist being oppressed, his grandfather responds: "Son, if you remember nothing else, remember this. It would be better to be a coward for a few minutes than become a corpse forever."

Fall 1948: Howard Lee has a traumatic falling-out with his best friend, a white boy named Lukee.
From The Courage to Lead: "One brisk Saturday morning, Lukee and I met to trade comic books, he was not his usual jovial self. As I was examining each book, he kept urging me to hurry up and decide. Finally I said, you don't seem right today. You ok? He looked at me in silence for a few seconds and then confessed that his father had told him that he couldn't play with me anymore and that he never wanted to see us together again. He confessed that his dad had told him that the neighbors didn't like me hanging around their house and that self-respecting whites did not associate with "niggers." I was absolutely stunned. But I was even more stunned when he went on to tell me that his father had told him that it was time for him to begin thinking about joining the Ku Klux Klan. I asked Lukee if he planned to join the KKK and he said he didn't know for sure, but he didn't think he had any choice. "After all," he said, "I am white and my father said that any white man worth anything will work to keep niggers in their place. Then he said "I'm sorry but this is the way things have to be. My daddy said this is the natural order of things. He said that we have to keep you in your place and never let you think you're as good as white folks." As he walked away, I said, "Lukee, don't' you ever mess with me. Don't ever try to keep me down. Don't ever come after me. If you do, make sure you destroy me the first time, because if you don't, I will die trying to destroy you."

Circa 1950: Howard Lee is chased by Klansmen after using a white restroom (and peeking into the ladies' room) at the Lithonia railway station. From The Courage to Lead: "Until that fateful day, I had dreamed of the day when I could leave the South and relocate to the North. But this experience completely changed my mind and also taught me a lesson about how fragile my existence could be. I made two promises to myself: the first was never to try to take on the system head-on but rather to learn how to maneuver and use it to achieve my goals. The second was that no matter what, I would never leave the South. I decided I had as much right to live, thrive, and enjoy the South as any other person and that I would spend the rest of my life trying to make things better here."

April 1951: Lee wins an oratorical contest at his high school. The night catapults him from "gawky teenager to confident public speaker."

1951: Howard Lee considers dropping out of high school. With Lee's family in dire financial straits, he wants to get a full-time job to help lighten the load. He is convinced otherwise by his English and speech teacher, Mrs. Williams, who tells him "I cannot promise you that you will ever have an opportunity, but I can guarantee that if an opportunity should ever come to you, you will be ready and prepared to seize it."

Circa 1952: Howard Lee's high school basketball team receives permission to practice in the gym at the white school. They are chased out by the chairman of the county school board of education, Charlie Davidson.

June 1953: Howard Lee graduates from Bruce Street High School, ranked second in his class of seven. The commencement address is given by Charlie Davidson. From The Courage to Lead: "I have never forgotten the feeling I had listening to him insult and berate the faculty and all 'niggers.' Davidson referred to our principal as 'Flagg'....he said that 'Flagg' understood how to stay in his place and that more of our 'nigger' teachers needed to learn that. He recounted the gymnasium incident, informing us that we would never be equal to whites. He said than we were the underclass and that whites were the superior class. He said he wanted us to know how lucky we were be getting an education and that we needed to learn how to show more appreciation to white folks for letting us have this privilege. As I sat there, I began building a resistance to everything he was preaching. I was determined not to be restricted to 'my place.' I was not inferior to anybody, white or black...by the time he finished, Davidson had created a determination inside of a young boy to try to be the best and always strive toward equality."

Fall 1953: Howard Lee begins his freshman year at Clark College in Atlanta. He chooses a pre-med major. His first two years at Clark are academic disasters.

June 12, 1955: Howard Lee's grandfather dies. His parents are shocked to hear that him grandfather left them a large sum of money. They use it to enlarge the house. For the first time, Howard Lee and his brothers sleep in a different room than their parents.

July 1956: Despite doing slightly better on his junior year of college, Howard Lee receives a letter informing him that he is not welcome back for a fourth year at Clark.

July 12, 1956: Howard Lee arrives on the campus of Fort Valley State College at 9 AM, and talks his way into the school.
From The Courage to Lead: "The college president, Dr. C.V. Troup, was a well-dressed, slender man in his forties, with thick, wavy hair. He spent more than twenty minutes with me as I told him of my hopes and dreams for life. Then he said, 'for whatever reason, I like you and I am willing to take a chance on you...but if you make one C, you're out. You'll have to pay your own tuition, and dorm rent. My parents had already decided they would go to the household finance company. They borrowed the money, using some furniture and the car as collateral. I promised them I would get a job in the college dining hall, but my mother said no. she wanted me to concentrate on succeeding because, as she put it, "this may be your last chance.'"

June 1957: Howard Lee ends his first year at Fort Valley State on honor roll.

June 1959: Howard Lee graduates from Fort Valley College, and becomes the first member of his family to receive a college diploma.

August 1959: Howard Lee's mother graduates from Fort Valley College, with a degree in elementary education.

Summer 1959: Howard Lee is drafted into the Army.

Fall, 1959: Howard Lee is sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for six weeks of basic training.

Fall 1959: After completing basic training, Howard Lee is sent to Fort Sam Houston for six weeks of medical corpsman training.

December 1959: Howard Lee arrives at Fort Hood. He is the only college graduate and draftee in his barracks, which is filled with old-timers and career soldiers.

December 1959: Howard Lee writes a letter to President Eisenhower. He also writes to his Georgia senator and congressman. The letters wind up on his captain's desk. The captain then tells him that he will be reassigned to the mental health clinic as a social work technician.

February 1960: The Greensboro sit-ins occur.

August 1960: Private Howard Lee arranges a sit-in in Killeen, Texas. After workers at a restaurant refuse to serve him, Private Lee returns to his base and organizes a sit-in for the following weekend, persuading several friends to join him. His plan backfires as the media reports him to the Fort Hood general. Private Lee and his friends are sent back to the base to meet with the general.

Mid-August 1960: Howard Lee is told by his general to leave Fort Hood, go home for a week, and then report to Korea.

Late August 1960: Howard Lee arrives in Seoul, clears customs, and is assigned to Camp Casey, which is only a few miles from the North Korean border, above the 38th parallel. He is assigned as an ambulance driver.

Fall 1960: Howard Lee convinces his captain at Camp Casey to reassign him as an assistant company clerk.

Fall 1960-Summer 1961: Howard Lee spends time learning Korean culture and language, and teaching English proficiency. He spends two evenings a week teaching typing to soldiers, and is invited to visit the presidential palace. He also starts performing as a vocalist with a military group called the Len Mack Trio, taking the name of Baron Lee and singing every weekend.

July 16. 1961: Howard Lee leaves Korea aboard a flying tiger, and travels to Oakland, California.

Summer 1961: Howard Lee is honorably discharged from the military. He moves to Savannah, where he takes a job as a juvenile probation officer.

Fall 1961: Howard Lee meets Lillian Wesley. The future Mrs. Lee was married, divorced, and the mother of two children when she meets Lee. He forms a loving and lasting relationship with her two children, Angela and Ricky.

November 24, 1962: Howard Lee and Lillian Wesley marry.

Early 1963: Howard Lee meets Frank Porter Graham. Graham suggests that Lee apply to UNC's graduate school to pursue a degree in social work. Graham tells Lee that if he is accepted, he (Graham) will help him find the money to pay Lee's tuition.

May 30, 1964: Howard Lee is accepted to UNC School of Social Work and receives a $2,000 per year fellowship.

September 16, 1964: Howard Lee moves to Chapel Hill to begin graduate school.

1965: The Lees join Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, becoming the church's only black members. Dean Smith is a member of the parish, and a close friend of the Reverend Robert Seymour.

July 1966: After graduating from the UNC School of Social Work, Howard Lee begins working at Duke University. The position, funded by the Ford Foundation, entails developing a comprehensive program of education intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children from birth through adolescence.

August 1966: Howard Lee is appointed to the visiting faculty of NCCU to teach sociology and social psychology

Late 1966: The Lees buy a house in Chapel Hill. The process is not without racial incident: the realtors, which have a base office in Alabama, offer him favors if he does not buy the house they have chosen, since there are no black families in the subdivision. The Lees buy the house anyway.

April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated. That night, the Lees vow to become more involved in public service.

Spring 1968: Howard Lee considers running for mayor of Chapel Hill. While his initial priority is to get an open housing ordinance passed, he is eventually persuaded to consider running for office.

February 1969: Howard Lee officially announces mayoral candidacy.

February 24, 1969: Roland Guiz, a friend of the incumbent, Roland "Sandy" McClamroch, announces mayoral candidacy.

May 6, 1969: Howard Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill. He is the first African American to be elected mayor of a southern town.

May 12, 1969: Howard Lee sworn in for his first term as Chapel Hill mayor.

September 1969: After voters approve municipal buildings referendum, Mayor Lee directs Chapel Hill's town manager to move forward with the project assuring an office for the mayor.

September 12, 1969: During a Q&A session in Washington, DC, Mayor Lee refers to Governor Bob Scott as a "bigot."

September 14, 1969: Newspaper headline reads "Lee apologizes for calling Scott bigot." Mayor Lee requests, and eventually receives, an audience with the governor. The governor accepts his apology, saying that he has "been called much worse things."

November 1969: Lenoir Dining Hall strike begins at UNC-Chapel Hill, seeking higher wages and improved working conditions. Mayor Lee and UNC President William Friday begin working around the clock to resolve the crisis.

Late November/Early December 1969: UNC President William Friday and Mayor Lee hear of attempts to organize three thousand black students to come together on December 9, for what is being called "Black Monday."

Early November 1969: Mayor Lee decides to remove police from the campus, and leave the company unprotected in order to force a settlement.

December 10, 1969 at 3:30 AM: Union and company representatives sign a contract and the strike is settled.

Circa Early 1970: Someone sets fire to the Chapel Hill School Administration Building.

September 1970: Howard Lee's daughter Karin Lee is born. Karin is Howard's first biological child.

February 1971: "Wilmington Ten" members are arrested in conjunction with firebombing of Mike's Grocery, a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ben Chavis and nine others are arrested, tried, and convicted of arson.

May 1971: Howard Lee is reelected for a second mayoral term, with 64 percent of the vote.

Late Spring 1971: Mayor Lee considers running for lieutenant governor, but decides not to when he learns that Jim Hunt is the leading candidate for the position.

1971: While thinking about running for commissioner of labor, Mayor Lee ponders a run for the U.S. House instead. He is intrigued by the notion of running for the seat in NC's Fourth Congressional District. The sitting representative is not seeking reelection in order to run (unsuccessfully) for the Senate.

Spring 1971: The NC General Assembly, redraw district lines, moving Orange County (including Chapel Hill) out of the fourth district and into the mostly rural and more conservative second district. This means that if Mayor Lee should run he faces a well-established incumbent, L.H. Fountain of Tarboro, NC.

January 10, 1972: Howard Lee announces his candidacy for the 2nd district U.S. House seat.

End April/ Beginning May 1972: Howard Lee discovers Fountain employing strategy to initiate a vote-buying campaign. The strategy targets black voters.

May 7, 1972: Howard Lee loses the Democratic primary to incumbent, LH Fountain, (48% to 52%).

May/June 1972: Howard Lee joins Terry Sanford in his Presidential campaign.

August 1972: Howard Lee joins Skipper Bowles in his gubernatorial campaign.

1973: Howard Lee runs for and wins third mayoral term.

January 1973: Mayor Lee publicly fires Robert Peck, Chapel Hill's town manager. After he and his board grow weary of Peck's failures to carry out directives, Mayor Lee requests his resignation. Mr. Peck refuses, and the board holds meeting and votes to fire him publicly, which Mayor Lee does.

1973: Mayor Lee is forced to remove "flower ladies" from Franklin Street. Considers this the most conflicting challenge he faced as mayor.

Fall 1973: A bus referendum passes in Chapel Hill, receiving 65% approval.

August 1974: The first official Chapel Hill Transit System is launched. Mayor Lee considers this the crowning achievement of his administration.

December 1, 1975: Howard Lee passes gavel to Jimmie Wallace, the new Chapel Hill mayor.

January 1976: Howard Lee announces he will seek the Democratic nomination for the office of lieutenant governor.

August 1976: Howard Lee finishes first in primary but fails to hold more than 50% of the vote.

September 14, 1976: Lee loses runoff election to Jimmy Green. Drops 60% from primary totals, losing to Green 48% to 52%.

Mid September 1976: Jim Hunt appoints Lee first as vice chairman of the NC Democratic Party.

Early November 1976: Jim Hunt elected is elected governor of North Carolina.

Late November 1976: Jim Hunt appoints Howard Lee Secretary Of Department Of Natural And Economic Resources. News reports note that Howard Lee is first black cabinet member in NC history.

Early 1977: 60 Minutes airs a special about the Wilmington Ten, suggesting that they were convicted on false evidence

January 23, 1978: Hunt concludes that the Wilmington 10 received a fair trial, and that he, "cannot, and will not, pardon the defendants." Hunt asks Sec. Lee to support his decision. Lee replies "Governor, it would be easier on me if you were to pardon them all, but I can and will defend your decision."

1978: Auditors find signs of inappropriate handling of contracts within CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration).

June 1979: Governor Hunt officially opens the North Carolina Zoological Park. Earlier, Sec. Lee had been directed to lobby the legislature for 12 million dollars needed. He eventually succeeds.

Summer 1979: Two Major Problems for Howard Lee: (1) internal auditors inform him that an opportunities industry center (OIC) in Roper, NC, has serious bookkeeping problems; and (2) Internal auditors find a subsidiary of NC American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) has grossly misused funds

Late 1979: Sec. Lee faces continuing reports of his failures and repeated calls for his dismissal; Hunt makes it clear that Sec. Lee will stay unless he (Hunt) says otherwise.

September 1979: Ten employees resign in protest of Sec. Lee's failure to push for stricter air pollution standards for power companies.

November 1980: Jim Hunt is reelected governor. From The Courage to Lead: "In the process, however, I was concerned that our relationship had been damaged. I frankly did not expect to be appointed to a second term in his cabinet."

Mid-November 1980: Gov. Hunt meets with Sec. Lee, asks him to continue serving in his cabinet. He agrees to.

June 1981: Howard Lee resigns cabinet post, effective July 31, 1981.

January 1982: Howard Lee begins teaching part-time at NC A&T State University in Greensboro; he also gives lectures and speeches at University of Georgia.

May 1982: John Turner, Dean of UNC School of Social Work, hires Howard Lee as an executive assistant.

March 1984: Howard Lee announces candidacy for US Congress 4th district.

Late 1985: American Airlines announces plans to establish hub at RDU.

June 15, 1987: Howard Lee's two stores open for business at RDU.

Fall 1989: State Senator Wanda Hunt resigns and Howard Lee is appointed to replace her. He takes the oath of office in January 1990.

January 1990: Howard Lee is sworn in to complete Wanda's Hunt term

November 1990: Howard Lee wins full term as state senator.

January 1991: Senator Barnes appoints Sen. Lee to serve on Education, Environment, Transportation, Finance, Appropriations committees.

1991: After Sen. Barnes announces he will not run for reelection, Sen. Lee is persuaded to support Marc Basnight as Senate Pro Tempore.

November 1992: Jim Hunt is elected for third term as governor.

1993: Sen. Lee is rated 18th most effective State Senator (out of 50)

November 1994: A victim of the Republican revolution, Howard Lee loses his seat, by 1800 votes, in a surprise loss to Republican Teena Little

January 1995: After leaving state senate, Howard Lee returns to managing his RDU business full-time.

September 1995: Howard Lee hires full-time manager to manage his RDU stores so he can concentrate on pursuing political interests.

January 1996: Howard Lee announces candidacy to regain state senate seat.

November 1996: Howard Lee defeats Teena Little--by 1800 votes.

January 1997: Howard Lee is sworn in as member of body

January 1997: Lee is appointed by Sen. Basnight as co-chairman of the senate subcommittees on education policy and appropriations.

1997-2000: Howard Lee manages all education reform enacted by the General Assembly.

2000: The airport authority grants Howard Lee's business a ten-year franchise and approves plans for nine stores to be built over two years.

November 2000: Howard Lee easily wins reelection for a second term.

November 2000: Mike Easley is elected governor.

January 2001: Sen. Lee is sworn in.

January 2001: Sen. Lee is appointed by Sen. Basnight as co-chairman of Senate Committee on Appropriations.

January 2001: Gov. Easley takes office and asks Sen. Lee to introduce and manage his education agenda, called "More at Four." He does so, quite effectively.

2001: At end of session, Sen. Lee is rated among the top five effective senators.

End of 2001: In wake of 9/11 attacks, Sen. Lee's business airport crumbles.

2002: Redistricting forces Sen. Lee to run in a primary against another incumbent, Ellie Kinnaird. He loses by 114 votes.

2002: After the primary loss, Howard Lee appears before NC House Education Committee to present education legislation called "Job Sharing for Teachers." At the end of this, his final presentation, he receives a standing ovation.

February 2003: Mike Easley appoints Howard Lee as his senior education advisor.

April 2003: Gov. Easley appoints Howard Lee to fill an unexpired term at NC State Board of Education.

May 2003: Howard Lee is unanimously elected chairman of NC State Board of Education.

2005: At Easley's request, Howard Lee fills vacant seat on NC Utilities Commission.

December 2005: Howard Lee sells his airport concessions stores.

November 2008: Barack Obama elected President.

November 2008: Beverly Perdue elected Governor.

Late 2008: Perdue adds Howard Lee to her transition team.

March 2009: Gov. Perdue appoints Howard Lee executive director of the NC Education Cabinet.