James E. Cheek

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James E. Cheek
Ronald Reagan and James E. Cheek.jpg
Visiting with the President in 1981
Born James Edward Cheek
(1932-12-04)December 4, 1932
Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, U.S.
Died January 8, 2010(2010-01-08) (aged 77)
Greensboro, North Carolina
Occupation educator, scholar, theologian, public speaker, humanitarian
Years active 1958–2010
Religion Christianity
Spouse(s) Celestine, 1958–2010 (his death)
Children 2

James Edward Cheek (December 4, 1932 – January 8, 2010),[1] president emeritus of Howard University, was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Despite suffering from severe cataracts, Cheek was an honor student at Washington Street Grammar School. He graduated from Immanuel Lutheran College with a secondary diploma in 1950 and served as a member of the United States Air Force in Korea in 1951, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and history from Shaw University. In 1955, Cheek received a Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester University in 1958 and a PhD from Drew University in 1962. During this period, Cheek was honored with a Colgate Rochester Fellowship, a Rockefeller Doctoral Fellowship and a Lily Foundation Fellowship. He was member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Howard University President (1968–1989)[edit]

Cheek was a professor of New Testament Theology at Virginia Union University when he was named president of Shaw University in 1963, at the age of 30. In 1968, he was appointed president of Howard University. During Cheek's twenty-year tenure at Howard, the student population increased by 3,500 and the number of schools, colleges, research programs, full-time faculty and Ph.D. programs increased dramatically. Howard's budget increased from $43 million to $417 million as the federal appropriation went from $29 million to $178 million. He was named Washingtonian of the Year in 1980 and in 1983, while still serving as president of Howard, Cheek was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1989, Cheek appointed Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater as a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees. Students rose up in protest against Atwater's appointment, disrupting Howard's 122nd anniversary celebrations, and eventually occupied the university's administration building.[2] Within days, both Atwater and Cheek resigned.

Excerpts & Quotations[edit]

Institutions serving primarily black Americans were created in response to American racism—a racism so thoroughly entrenched in our nation’s mentality and so deeply engraved in our national social consciousness that it could be summed in the words of Chief Justice [Roger] Taney of the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scot decision “that the Negro is so far inferior that he has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” ...

During the institution of slavery, and shortly after its abolition, the black colleges and universities were created to provide, through education, the development of leadership and equality to serve as instruments for the liberation of a people subjected to a “bondage of the flesh” as well as to a “bondage of the spirit.” ...

In the national atmosphere in which we must carry on our work, Howard University—as has occurred so frequently in the past—will be looked upon to provide a haven and a sanctuary; to demonstrate both leadership and vision, to defend with courage and to protect with diligence, to chart and navigate a course that will cause our nation to unloose the yoke of bondage in order that the oppressed go free.

As always, from the time of our founding, in the endeavors in which we have engaged, we had few friends but many adversaries, weak supporters but strong opponents, little understanding but much confusion, few advocates but numerous detractors.

During the years that I have been here, I have come strongly to believe that the mission and purpose of this institution are inextricably bound up with the future of the American nation as a free society. And it is abundantly clear to me that the future of black people will influence decisively the destiny of this republic.

---Excerpted from James E. Cheek’s address at Howard University’s 113th Opening Convocation, September 26, 1980

Awards and recognitions[edit]

The recipient of hundreds of awards and nineteen honorary degrees, Cheek has served as a board member of several colleges and universities including the University of Miami, Drew University, Colgate Rochester University, New York Institute of Technology, Benedict College, Florida Memorial College, Fisk University and Howard University. His presidential appointments include the Board of Foreign Scholarships, National Advisory Council to the Peace Corps, UNESCO, Commission on Selection of White House Fellows and the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Personal life[edit]

Cheek was married to the former Celestine Williams, and had two children: James E. Cheek Jr., a screenwriter and director, Janet E. Cheek, a physician. He died on January 8, 2010, from complications of coronary artery disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas (January 21, 2010). "James E. Cheek, Forceful University President, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ Stanley, Alessandra; Jacob V. Lamar (March 20, 1989). "Saying No to Lee Atwater". Time.com. Time Warner. 

External links[edit]