Samuel Pierce

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Samuel Pierce
8th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
In office
January 23, 1981 – January 20, 1989
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byMoon Landrieu
Succeeded byJack Kemp
Personal details
Samuel Riley Pierce

(1922-09-08)September 8, 1922
Glen Cove, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 31, 2000(2000-10-31) (aged 78)
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseBarbara Penn Wright
EducationCornell University (BA, JD)
New York University (LLM)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
UnitCriminal Investigation Division
Battles/warsWorld War II

Samuel Riley Pierce Jr. (September 8, 1922 – October 31, 2000) was an American attorney and politician who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from January 23, 1981 until January 20, 1989, during the administration of Ronald Reagan.

Early life[edit]

Pierce Jr. was born and grew up in Glen Cove, New York. His father, also Samuel Pierce, came from Virginia to New York as a young man in 1899 during the early years of the Great Migration of Black Americans who were fleeing Jim Crow laws and poor economic opportunities.[1][note 1] Pierce (senior) worked at the Nassau Country Club, on Long Island, for over forty years.[2]

Pierce (Jr.) was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.[3] Pierce was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. He was also elected to Cornell's oldest senior honor society, the Sphinx Head Society. He was a member of the New York Young Republican Club.[4]

Pierce served in the United States Army's Criminal Investigation Division during World War II. Pierce graduated from Cornell University in 1947 and received a law degree from Cornell Law School in 1949. He earned a master of laws degree from New York University School of Law in 1952.[5]

Political career[edit]

Pierce was an assistant United States attorney in New York from 1953 to 1955. A lifelong Republican, he first entered government when Eisenhower was president. He became an assistant to the Undersecretary of Labor in 1955.[6] Pierce was appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to serve as a judge of the New York City Court of General Sessions, 1959–1960. While serving in that position, he appeared on the popular game show What's My Line?.[7] Pierce was named a partner of the law firm of Battle Fowler in 1961,[5][8] the first African-American partner of a major New York firm, and was there until 1981 except for a period from 1970 through 1973 when—during the Nixon presidency—he was general counsel for the Department of the Treasury. Pierce argued before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr. and the New York Times in the important First Amendment case styled New York Times v. Sullivan.

In 1981, Pierce became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Ronald Reagan. Pierce was Reagan's only African-American Cabinet member and the only cabinet member to serve in his post throughout both of Reagan's terms as President. On June 18, 1981 during a luncheon for the US Conference of Mayors in Washington DC, President Reagan mistook Pierce for one of the mayors on the dais, infamously greeting him, "Hello, Mr. Mayor."[9] Due to his perceived low profile within the Reagan administration, he was sometimes derided as "Silent Sam."[10] During Pierce's tenure, HUD appropriations for low-income housing were cut by nearly half and funding all but ended for new housing construction.[5] According to several former aides and HUD employees, Pierce, uninterested in his job, would often delegate important decisions to advisors and would watch television in his office.[5][11][12]

Political scandal[edit]

After leaving office, he was investigated by the United States Office of the Independent Counsel and the United States Congress over mismanagement, abuse and political favoritism that took place in the department during his tenure.[8] These investigations found that under Pierce's stewardship the department engaged in political favoritism and trading of influence.[8] Millions of dollars of federal government money was given to projects sought by connected politicians of both parties, in violation of rules governing such grants and expenditures.[8] Through the 1990s many of Pierce's closest aides and confidants at the department were charged and convicted on felony charges related to the political favoritism and inappropriate expenditures that pervaded the department during Pierce's tenure (Thomas Demery, Phillip Winn, Joseph Strauss and Deborah Gore Dean). Pierce himself was not charged, however.[5][13]


Pierce died at the Holy Cross Hospital outside Washington, D.C., on October 31, 2000, at the age of 78.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The news article misspells Pierce as 'Pearce.' It is written in a racist tone, but cited nevertheless for the factual content.


  1. ^ "King of Valets". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. August 29, 1916. Retrieved May 27, 2022.
  2. ^ Tolhurst, D. (January 1, 1995). NASSAU COUNTRY CLUB THE PLACE TO BE 1896-1996 - NASSAU C. C. Nassau Country Club.
  3. ^ "Distinguished Eagle Scouts" (PDF). Retrieved November 4, 2010.
  4. ^ "History".
  5. ^ a b c d e f Shenon, Philip (December 6, 2016). "Samuel R. Pierce Jr., Ex-Housing Secretary, Dies at 78". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Jackson, Robert L. (November 4, 2000). "Samuel R. Pierce Jr.; Reagan HUD Chief Was Investigated but Never Charged". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ "What's My Line? - Frankie Laine; Vincent Price [panel] (Apr 12, 1959)". YouTube.
  8. ^ a b c d "Pierce Helped His Old Law Firm On H.U.D. Requests, Files Show". The New York Times. August 6, 1989. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Associated Press (June 19, 1981). "CABINET AIDE GREETED BY REAGAN AS 'MAYOR'". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  10. ^ Michael Riley, Nancy Traver and Samuel Pierce (September 18, 1989). "Silent Sam Speaks Up". Archived from the original on May 8, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  11. ^ Kurtz, Howard (July 26, 1989). "IN PIERCE'S PAST, SEEDS OF HIS FAILURE AT HUD". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  12. ^ The Morning Call (July 17, 1989). "PIERCE HOLDS KEY IN SCANDAL". The Morning Call. Retrieved September 20, 2021.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Succeeded by