Mainstream Academic Institutions

Have African-American educators headed mainstream academic institutions?

In 1854 Patrick Francis Healy (1834–1910) became the first African-American president of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Healy, the first black Jesuit, was also the first of his race to earn a Ph.D. from Louvain University in Belgium. He was the son of an Irish plantation owner and a mulatto slave woman; his race was not widely known. The first black president of a major American university in the twentieth century was Clifton Reginald Wharton Jr. (1926–), who on January 2, 1970, became president of Michigan State University. He was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University, and in 1958 was the first black to earn a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago. In 1993 Wharton was named deputy U.S. secretary of state.

Mary Frances Berry (1938–) became chancellor of the University of Colorado in 1976 and left the next year to become assistant secretary of education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Several other educators, male and female, have headed mainstream institutions, notable among them Ruth Simmons (1945–), who was the first black president to lead one of the “Seven Sister” schools, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She moved to Brown University as its president on July 1, 2001, becoming the first woman to head two of the nation’s premier institutions. Simmons was born in Grapevine, Texas, to parents who were sharecroppers, and graduated from historically black Dillard University in New Orleans. She earned her doctorate from Radcliffe College, now a part of Harvard University. In the Deep South, Rodney Bennett became the first black president of the University of Southern Mississippi. He took office in 2013.


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