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Johnnetta Cole

Biography: Johnnetta Cole
Past President of Spelman College

Johnnetta Cole Date of birth: October 19, 1936

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Johnnetta Betsch was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where her family had long been established as leaders of the black community. At age 15, Johnnetta Betsch entered Fisk University, through the school's early admissions program. She completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College and went on to earn a Master's and Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University.

Her first teaching position was at Washington State University, where she was named Outstanding Faculty member of the year. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she became Professor of Anthropology and Afro-American Studies. At the same school, she served for two years as Associate Provost of Undergraduate education. In 1984 she joined the faculty of Hunter College as Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. She retained these positions while serving simultaneously on the graduate faculty of the City University of New York.

In 1987 she made history by becoming the first African-American woman to serve as President of Spelman College. At her inauguration as seventh President of Spelman College, Bill Cosby and his wife Camille made a gift of $20 million to the College, the largest single gift from individuals to any historically black college or university.

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From the year Dr. Cole took office, Spelman's freshman classes have had among the highest SAT averages of any of the historically black colleges or universities. In 1992, the magazine U.S. News and World Report, gave Spelman a coveted number one rating in its annual survey of "Best College Buys." The same issue ranked Spelman the number one regional liberal arts college in the South. In that same year, Johnnetta Cole was named to President-elect Bill Clinton's transition team as Cluster Coordinator for Education, Labor and the Arts and Humanities. In this sensitive role she became a target for opponents of the new administration.

In 1996, Money magazine listed Spelman as the number one historically black college, the number one women's college and the number seven college of any kind in the United States. Under Dr. Cole's leadership, the college completed a capital campaign which raised $113.8 million, the largest sum ever raised by a historically black college or university. Johnnetta Cole is the author of two textbooks used in classrooms throughout the United States. Her book, Conversations was published in 1993.

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In addition to her academic duties, Dr. Cole has served on the board of Directors of Home Depot, Merck & Co., Inc., NationsBank South and was the first woman ever elected to the Board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. After ten outstanding years as President of Spelman, Dr. Cole returned to teaching in 1998, as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies and African American Studies at Emory University. In 2002, Dr. Cole accepted an appointment as President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Like Spelman, Bennett College is a historically black college; they are the only two institutions in the United States founded specifically for the higher education of African American women.

At Bennett College, Dr. Cole founded the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute. Until 2006, she chaired the Board of Trustees of United Way of America. In recent years, she has advised the Smithsonian Institute on the creation of a National Museum of African American History. In 2009, the Smithsonian selected Johnnetta Cole to serve as director of the National Museum of African Art. She is married to James Staton, Jr.




This page last revised on May 01, 2009 13:49 EDT