Since helping Sargent Shriver plan and launch the Peace Corps in 1961, former U.S Senator Harris Wofford (D-PA) has been recognized as a leading force in America’s national service movement. He has dedicated much of his life to the goal of making citizen service a common expectation and experience for all Americans. Wofford has served in numerous positions and has written and spoken extensively on service and needs of young people. Today, Wofford serves as Senior Advisor to the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project to expand national service.
As a young lawyer in the 1950s, Wofford became active in the civil rights movement and worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. Under President Eisenhower, he was counsel to Reverend Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame on the first U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 1961, Wofford became a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy and chaired the sub-Cabinet group on civil rights. After working closely with Sargent Shriver in creating the Peace Corps, Wofford and his family moved to Ethiopia, where he became the Peace Corps’ special representative to Africa and director of its Ethiopia program.
After leaving the Peace Corps, Wofford was named president of the State University of New York at Old Westbury. Later, Wofford became the first man to be president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
In 1986, Gov. Robert Casey named Wofford to be Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor and Industry. From that post, Wofford established the Governor’s Office of Citizen Service (PennServe), which promoted school-based service-learning and youth corps, and now manages the statewide AmeriCorps program.
In 1991, at age 65, Wofford was named to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. In November 1991, Wofford won an upset victory, defeating former Gov. and sitting Attorney General Richard Thornburgh in a special election to fill the remainder of Sen. Heinz’s term. Wofford served in the U.S. Senate until 1994. During his time in the Senate, Wofford was a leader in the effort to secure universal health insurance. With Congressman John Lewis, he co-authored the legislation establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a day for volunteer service — now observed as a “Day On, Not a Day Off” in many parts of the country. He also played a leading role in enacting the legislation that created AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In 1995, President Clinton appointed Wofford as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service with the specific assignment of rebuilding bipartisan support for AmeriCorps and national service. As part of his work at the Corporation, Wofford was instrumental in organizing the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, which brought together all of the living Presidents, many governors and mayors, and more than 3,000 delegates across the country. The 1997 summit led to the creation of America’s Promise, The Alliance for Youth, with General Colin Powell as its initial chairman, a position Wofford assumed in 2001. Wofford later served as co-chair with Alma Powell until June 2004. He received a 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama.
Wofford is a graduate of the University of Chicago, Howard University Law School, and Yale Law School. He is the author of several books, including “Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties” and “India Afire,” which he co-authored with his late wife Clare. He lives in Washington DC.