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Mon, 10.19.1936

Johnetta Cole, Educator, and Activist born

Johnetta B. Cole

Johnetta Cole was born on this date in 1936. She is a Black educator, administrator, humanitarian, and civil and women’s rights activist.

Born in Jacksonville, FL, Johnnetta Betsch came from a family dedicated to the betterment of all blacks in the community. It was a legacy from generations of philanthropy based on village family values. During the mid-1930s and early 1940s, her family founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. They were also educators; the public library in her neighborhood was named after her grandfather.

At age 15, Betsch entered Fisk University through the school's early admissions program. She completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College and earned 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 a 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 a 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, Dr. Cole became the first Black woman to serve as president of Spelman College. During this time, Dr. Cole divorced her first husband, economist Robert Cole, and in 1988 married Arthur J. Robinson, Jr., a public health administrator. She has three sons and two stepsons, and one granddaughter.

Dr. Cole was president emerita of Spelman College and emerita of Emory University, from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies. She is the author of numerous publications for scholarly and general audiences. Her most recent publication is a book co-authored with Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, "Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities." She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Anthropological Association.

Dr. Cole continues to work as a college professor and president. Her publications, speeches, and community service consistently address issues of race, gender, and all other forms of discrimination. Dr. Cole serves on the board of the Carter Center, the National Visionary Leadership Project, and the United Way of Greater Greensboro. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Merck & Co., Inc. and the Atlanta Falcons. Dr. Cole consults on diversity matters with Citigroup. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, The Links, Inc., and the National Council of Negro Women.

In addition to 50 honorary degrees, Dr. Cole has received numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Dorothy I. Height Dreammaker Award, the Radcliffe Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the 2001 Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, the Award for Education presented at the 90th Anniversary Celebrations of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League, and in 2004, she became the first African American to serve as chair of the Board of United Way of America.

She is a mentor to many young women and men. Currently, Dr. Johnetta Betsch Cole is the 14th president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC, and in 2007, was appointed President Emerita.  2018 she became president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
To Become a professor


Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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