More than 1,000 friends, relatives and sorority sisters from her college days paid their final respects last night to Patricia Roberts Harris at a wake at Howard University's Rankin Chapel.
Harris, who died Saturday, was remembered in song, prayer and recollection during a solemn "farewell ritual" conducted by hundreds of members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the service organization she joined years ago when she was a Howard University student.
Harris, who died of cancer, served her sorority in many volunteer assignments and the nation in posts that included the Cabinet-level posts of secretary of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) under President Carter.
A funeral service will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at the Washington Cathedral.
Joining the mourners last night were several persons who had worked with Harris in public service, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson; Vernon Jordan, former executive director of the National Urban League; Walter Washington, former D.C. mayor; David Clarke, D.C. City Council chairman, and John Hechinger, a businessman and former City Council chairman.
Jordan said that Harris "joins [the Rev.] Martin [Luther King Jr.], Roy [Wilkins, former executive director of the NAACP], A. Philip Randolph [black union activist]. . . . That's her peer group."
Others who said they knew Harris well told a reporter that they would best remember her "spunk," her "sense of dedication" and her "commitment to serve."
"She was a woman who was a personal force and who had a charm and charisma that transcended two eras," said Clarke, who was a Howard law student when Harris briefly served as dean of the Howard Law School.
"My most interesting time with her was when we ran for national committeeman and national committeewoman together," said Hechinger. "We were campaigning in a poor neighborhood in Washington and someone said, 'You know, you middle-class people come down here and you don't know what you're talking about.'
"She said to the person, 'It isn't middle class. It's upper class.' No doubt about it, she was feisty."
Matilene Berryman, a D.C. attorney who had not known Harris, said she attended the wake because "this is paying homage to one who rose to great accomplishment. That took a lot of guts, grit and sacrifice. I felt I should honor her."
The wake was marked by the "Omega Omega" ceremony conducted by Harris' sorority sisters in a traditional ceremony. Several hundred members, dressed in black, formed in both aisles of the chapel as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," a classic spiritual, was played softly in the background.