Johnnetta Cole

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Johnnetta B. Cole
Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.jpg
Johnnetta B. Cole
Born (1936-10-19) October 19, 1936 (age 81)
Jacksonville, Florida
Nationality American
Alma mater Oberlin College (B.A)
Northwestern University (M.A.) (PhD)
Scientific career
Fields Anthropology
Institutions National Museum of African Art
Spelman College
Bennett College

Johnnetta Betsch Cole (born October 19, 1936)[1] is an American anthropologist, educator and museum director. Cole was the first African-American female president of Spelman College, a historically black college, serving from 1987 to 1997. She was president of Bennett College from 2002 to 2007.

Since 2009, she has been Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, located in Washington, DC.[2] In 2013, the Winston-Salem Chronicle described Cole as a distinguished educator, cultural anthropologist, and humanitarian.[3]


Johnnetta Betsch was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1936. She is a granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida's first black millionaire, entrepreneur and cofounder of the Afro-American Industrial and Benefit Association,[4] and Mary Kingsley Sammis. Sammis' great-grandparents were Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and slave owner, and his wife and former slave Anna Madgigine Jai, originally from present-day Senegal. Her Fort George Island home is protected as Kingsley Plantation, a National Historic Landmark.[5]

Cole enrolled at the age of 15 in Fisk University, a historically black college. She transferred to Oberlin College in Ohio, where she completed a B.A. in sociology in 1957. She attended graduate school at Northwestern University, earning her master's (1959) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. She attended graduate school at Northwestern University, earning her master's (1959) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. She did her dissertation field research in Liberia, West Africa, in 1960-61 through Northwestern University as part of their economic survey of the country.[6]


Johnnetta B. Cole served as a professor at Washington State University from 1962 to 1970, where she cofounded one of the U.S.'s first black studies programs. In 1970 Cole began working in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she served until 1982. While at the University of Massachusetts, she played a pivotal role in the development of the university's W.E.B. Du Bois Department of African-American Studies. Cole then moved to Hunter College in 1982, and became director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program. From 1998 to 2001 Cole was a professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies, and African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.[7]


In 1987, Cole was selected as the first black female president of Spelman College, a prestigious historically black college for women. She served until 1997, building up their endowment through a $113 million capital campaign, attracting significantly higher enrollment as students increased, and overall raising the ranking of the school among the best liberal arts schools went up. Bill and Camille Cosby contributed $20 million to the capital campaign.[8]

After teaching at Emory University, she was recruited as president of Bennett College for Women, also a historically black college for women. There she led another successful capital campaign. In addition, she founded an art gallery to contribute to the college's culture.[8] Cole is currently the Chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute founded at Bennett College for Women. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

In 2009 Cole was named as Director of the National Museum of African Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.[8]


Cole has also served in major corporations; she has been a director of Merck & Co. since 1994. She is the first woman elected to the board of Coca-Cola.[9] From 2004 to 2006, Cole was the Chair of the Board of Trustees of United Way of America[10] and is on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Greater Greensboro.[11]

Political activity[edit]

President-elect Bill Clinton appointed Cole to his transition team for education, labor, the arts and humanities in 1992.[12] He also considered her for the Cabinet post of Secretary of Education.[13] But when The Jewish Daily Forward reported that she had been a member of the national committee of the Venceremos Brigades, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation had tied to Cuban intelligence forces, Clinton did not advance her nomination.[14]

Legacy and honors[edit]


I pose that question to myself, why, in the 107 years of the history of this historically Black college for women, there has not been an African-American woman president.

— Johnnetta B. Cole[1]

This is a nation whose spoken and written vision is chillingly beautiful.

— Johnnetta B. Cole[18]

The more we pull together toward a new day, the less it matters what pushed us apart in the past

— Johnnetta B. Cole[19]

We are for difference: for respecting difference for allowing difference, for encouraging difference, until difference no longer makes a difference.

— Johnnetta B. Cole[19]

The ultimate expression of generosity is not in giving of what you have, but in giving of who you are.

— Johnnetta B. Cole[20]


  1. ^ a b "Johnnetta B. Cole, PhD" at the Academy of Achievement
  2. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (February 10, 2009). "Johnnetta Cole Named New Director of the National Museum of African Art". The Washington Post; accessed October 5, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Sit-in museum to present awards". The Winston-Salem Chronicle. February 1, 2013. Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ Yelvington, Kevin (2003). "An Interview with Johnnetta Betsch Cole". Current Anthropology. 44 (2): 275. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 
  5. ^ Jackson, Antoinette; Burns, Allan (January 2006). Ethnohistorical Study of the Kingsley Plantation Community, National Park Service, p. 24.
  6. ^ Yelvington, Kevin (2003). [She attended graduate school at Northwestern University, earning her master's (1959) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. "An Interview with Johnnetta Betsch Johnson"] Check |url= value (help). Current Anthropology. 44 (4): 275. Retrieved 3/9/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  7. ^ Yelvington, Kevin (2003). [She attended graduate school at Northwestern University, earning her master's (1959) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. "An Interview with Johnnetta Betsch Cole"] Check |url= value (help). Current Anthropology. 22 (4): 275. Retrieved 3/9/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ a b c Jacqueline Trescott, "Johnnetta Cole Named New Director of the National Museum of African Art", Washington Post, February 10, 2009.
  9. ^ Mezger, Roger (September 5, 2008). "Workplace diversity: Numbers aren't enough, speaker says", The Plain Dealer; accessed October 5, 2011.
  10. ^ "Dr. Johnnetta Cole". United Way of America; accessed October 07, 2011.
  11. ^ "Shifting Paradigms: Progressive Pathways to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?", Ohio State University; accessed October 7, 2011.
  12. ^ Makers profile: Johnnetta Cole, Groundbreaking Scholar & College President
  13. ^ President of Spelman College, Johnnetta Cole, Fresh Air program, 1993.
  14. ^ Susan Chira. Conversations/Johnnetta B. Cole; A Scholar's Convictions Keep Her Pushing the Power of Words, New York Times, January 10, 1993.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 2". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 
  18. ^ "Keys to Success - The American Dream". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved November 24, 2007. 
  19. ^ a b "State of the City Address, Mayor Shirley Franklin". City of Atlanta Online. January 5, 2004. Retrieved November 24, 2007. 
  20. ^ "Volunteer Opportunities".; accessed October 5, 2011.

External links[edit]