Harris Wofford, Former Senator, Civil Rights Activist, Dies At 92 In a long public career, Wofford played a key role in JFK's election, marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and led AmeriCorps.
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Harris Wofford, Former Senator, Civil Rights Activist, Dies At 92

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Harris Wofford, Former Senator, Civil Rights Activist, Dies At 92

Harris Wofford, Former Senator, Civil Rights Activist, Dies At 92

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A moment now to remember former Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania. He died yesterday after suffering a fall. He was 92. Wofford was a lifelong advocate for civil rights and progressive causes. NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Harris Wofford led a long and, in a word, interesting life. His former chief of staff John Gomperts sums it up this way.

JOHN GOMPERTS: His life was one giant adventure.

NAYLOR: Wofford was born to a well-to-do family in New York in 1926. On a world tour with his grandmother at age 11, he watched Mussolini denounce the League of Nations from a Rome balcony and saw Gandhi in India. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in World War II and in the mid-'50s became one of the very first whites to graduate from Howard University law school. He also had a law degree from Yale. He helped John F. Kennedy get elected president, helped found the Peace Corps and marched with the Reverend Martin Luther King in Selma. Gomperts says the day Wofford died was fitting.

GOMPERTS: The poetic thing that happened is that Harris died yesterday on Martin Luther King holiday, a day that he and John Lewis together turned into a day of service through legislation passed in 1994.

NAYLOR: Wofford became a senator in 1991 after a plane crash killed Republican Senator John Heinz. He won the seat later that year in part by making health care an issue. He was asked in a 1992 NPR interview why it took so long for health care to become recognized as a problem by lawmakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HARRIS WOFFORD: How long? Oh, Lord, how long? I - the - there's a tide in the affairs of men with issues, and the tide is coming in on this issue now.

NAYLOR: Wofford's time in the Senate was short-lived. He lost re-election in 1994. He then returned to public service, becoming CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the parent organization of AmeriCorps. He also became a commentator for NPR. In 1995, he had this to say about the debate over affirmative action.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WOFFORD: Race is the oldest, most dangerous wedge in American politics, a time-tested way to split the nation apart. Once it led to civil war. For years afterwards, especially in the South, it was the way for demagogues to win elections.

NAYLOR: I asked John Gomperts what he thought was Wofford's legacy.

GOMPERTS: The buoyant and endless pursuit of a better nation, a better world.

NAYLOR: After his wife's passing in 1996, Wofford fell in love with a man 50 years his junior, Matthew Charlton. The two were married when Wofford was 90. He wrote in The New York Times that matrimony is not based on anyone's sexual nature, choices or dreams; it is based on love. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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