Robert Weaver served as the first United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (also known as HUD) from 1966 to 1968. He was the first African American to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States. As a young man, Weaver had been one of 45 prominent African Americans appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his Black Cabinet, where he acted as an informal adviser as well as directing federal programs during the New Deal.
Robert Clifton Weaver was born December 29, 1907 into a middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His parents were Morgan Weaver, a postal worker, and Margaret Freeman, of mixed-race ancestry; they encouraged the boy in his academic studies. His maternal grandfather was Dr. Freeman, the first black to graduate from Harvard in dentistry.
Weaver attended the M Street School, now known as the Paul Dunbar High School, an academic high school for blacks at a time of racial segregation, and a school with a national reputation for excellence. Weaver went on to Harvard University, where he earned his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. in economics, completing his doctorate in 1934.
In the late 1950s, Weaver was New York state's rent commissioner. Then, in 1960, he became vice chairman of the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board. President-elect Kennedy asked Weaver to serve as the administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA). In that capacity, Weaver helped author the 1961 compilation housing bill. He also supported and helped lobby for the 1962 Senior Citizens Housing Act.
Robert Weaver continued working at HHFA during the Johnson administration, drafting all of the administration's housing and urban renewal programs. Weaver also worked on the $7.8 billion housing bill in 1965, which included an expansion of public housing and programs for rent supplementing low-income families.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in September 1965, and Weaver became its first secretary the following January, thereby becoming the first African-American appointed to a cabinet position. HUD absorbed HHFA, so many of Weaver's responsibilities carried over from his former post. After assuming the responsibilities as HUD secretary, Weaver promoted the Metropolitan Development Act in November of 1966 and the Demonstration Cities Program.
Despite the success of individual programs, Weaver's initiatives had failed to stop the growth of urban decay. Weaver resigned his post on January 1, 1969. Later that year, he became president of Bernard Baruch College, but he left that post in 1971 to become professor of urban affairs at Hunter College. Robert Weaver died in New York City on July 17, 1997.