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Howard Nathaniel Lee (born July 28, 1934) is an American politician from the U.S. state of North Carolina.

After earning a bachelor's degree from Fort Valley State College and a master's in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he accepted a position at Duke University in 1966.

On May 6, 1969, Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was the first African American to hold the position in a predominantly white city, and the first to do so in the American South. Lee was mayor of Chapel Hill from 1969 to 1975, during which, among other things, he helped to create a useful city busing system. His election was considered a step forward for the ongoing African-American Civil Rights Movement.

In 1976, Lee sought the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, but was defeated in the primary runoff by Jimmy Green. In 1977, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Lee as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, a post he held until 1981.

Lee returned to electoral politics in 1990 when he was elected to the North Carolina Senate. He served from 1990 to 1994 and 1996 to 2002. While in the Senate, he concentrated particularly on issues affecting public education.

On May 1, 2003, the North Carolina State Board of Education elected him as its chairman, succeeding Phil Kirk. In 2009, Gov. Beverly Perdue announced that she was appointing Lee as the new executive director of the N.C. Education Cabinet, composed of leaders of public schools, community colleges and public and private universities. This meant Lee would give up his seat on the Board of Education.[1]

He has also served as a member of the North Carolina Utilities Commission, having been appointed by Governor Mike Easley on April 1, 2005.

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