Harris Wofford (SHS 1944)

Former Senator from Pennsylvania

As a young student at Scarsdale High School, Wofford founded the Student Federalists, an organization dedicated to world peace.  He graduated from the University of Chicago and attended law school at Yale and Howard University.  After graduation, he served in the U.S.Army Air Force and then as an attorney for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In 1959 he became a law professor at Notre Dame University.   

It was during the 1950's that he became a friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King.

He also was an advisor to John F. Kennedy.  During the 1960 presidential campaign, he urged Kennedy to write an open letter to Mrs. King expressing concern for the safety of her husband, at the time in jail in Georgia.  Kennedy followed Wofford's advice.  That letter may have saved King's life, at least at that time.  It also led to a sharp jump in the percentage of black voters supporting the Democratic Party. 

After the election, President Kennedy appointed him Special Assistant to the President on Civil Rights.  There he urged Kennedy to issue an executive order barring discrimination in federally-aided housing programs.  Kennedy waited until the Congressional elections in 1962 were past to act.  At the same time, Wofford was a significant force in the founding of the Peace Corps, serving as the Peace Corps' special representative to Africa and the Associate Director of the Peace Corps.   

In 1966 Wofford left the Peace Corps to become president of a new university, the State University of  New York at Old Westbury.  Four years later he became president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.   In 1991, Pennsylvania's senior senator, John Heinz, died in a plane crash and Governor Bob Casey appointed Wofford to the seat, until the special elections could be held the following November.  In a major upset, Wofford, campaigning on the health care concerns of the common citizen, defeated Dick Thornburgh, the former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  In 1994, Wofford was defeated in his bid for reelection. 


Wofford is also an author, having written India Afire in 1951 and Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties in 1980.  Since his retirement from politics,  Wofford has been chairman of the Corporation for National Service, and on the boards of America's Promise, Youth Service America and the Points of Light Foundation.  He was selected as the winner of the John W. Gardner Leadership Award in 2002.