By Jeremy Craig, Communications Manager for the Office of the Provost
The Office of the Provost is pleased to announce the speaker of the 2022 Groundbreaker Lecture, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, President Emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, on Feb. 15.
The virtual event will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and is open to Georgia State students, faculty and staff. Please register by clicking https://provost.gsu.edu/groundbreaker-lecture/registration/.
Dr. Cole, the first African American woman president of Spelman College and later as president of Bennett College, is the only person to serve as president of both historically Black colleges for women in the United States.
She is an accomplished educator and museum professional, noted speaker and author on issues of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, and a committed advocate for social justice. She currently serves as the National Chair and Seventh President of the National Council of Negro Women, an advocacy organization with more than 2 million members, working in the interest of women’s rights and civil rights.
Over the course of her career, she has held teaching and administrative positions in anthropology, women’s studies, and African American studies at several major universities.
After retiring from academia, Dr. Cole served as the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art for eight years. Upon her retirement from the Smithsonian she received the title of Director Emerita. Following her years at the Smithsonian, Dr. Cole was a Principle Consultant with Cook Ross, a management consulting firm, where she co-led a Chief Diversity Officer Leadership Forum and worked with various companies to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces. As a Senior Consulting Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, she worked on initiatives on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in art museums and higher education.
Dr. Cole has a long history of community service. She was the first African American to serve as the Chair of the Board of United Way of America. Recently she was on the board of Martha’s Table, a nonprofit that supports children, families and communities in Washington, D. C. through quality education, healthy food and community support. She has also held leadership roles in a number of professional organizations, including the Association of Art Museums Directors where she served as the president and she co-led the American Alliance Museum’s Working Group on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion.
Dr. Cole has served on the corporate boards of Home Depot, Merck, and Nation’s Bank South. And she was the first woman appointed to the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, and a member of the Association of Black Anthropologists. She is a member of the, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Links, Inc., and a Life Member of NAACP.
The Groundbreaker Lecture Series recognizes those who have or who are changing the world. Through the series, the university honors individuals whose bold, brave actions have had a significant, positive impact that fundamentally advanced society for the better.
The Groundbreaker Lecture Series was launched by the Office of the Provost at Georgia State during February 2020 to honor three brave women — Barbara Pace Hunt, Iris Mae Welch and Myra Payne Elliott — who sued in the 1950s for their right to enroll and attend Georgia State’s predecessor institution. These groundbreakers were a "ground crew" whose legal case and bravery in the face of threats from political leaders and white supremacists, helped to build key legal precedents that eventually struck down segregation in higher education in the United States.
Previous speakers include Dr. Maurice Daniels in 2020, who wrote a valuable history of these three brave women, and in 2021 Dr. Peniel Joseph, whose book "The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr." reveals a more nuanced portrait of the men, who, despite markedly different backgrounds, inspired and pushed each other throughout their adult lives.
For a full biography of Dr. Cole, click here to download Dr. Cole's biography. To watch previous lectures, as well as a mini-documentary about the "ground crew" in 2020, visit https://provost.gsu.edu/groundbreaker-lecture/.