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Johnnetta Cole to deliver 2016 Mary Frances Early Lecture at UGA

Johnnetta Cole-v
Johnnetta Cole

Athens, Ga. – Johnnetta Cole, the president emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, will deliver the 16th annual Mary Frances Early Lecture March 29 at 3 p.m. in Mahler Hall in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

She will speak on “The Case for Diversity and Inclusion in American Higher Education.” The event is free and open to the public.

In 1987, Cole became the first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. She later served as president of Bennett College for Women, making Cole the only person who has served as president of both historically black colleges for women in the U.S. Cole additionally is professor emerita of Emory University, from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African-American Studies.

Cole is a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was appointed director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in March 2009 and currently serves on the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is also the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and she is on the board of Gregory University in Uturu, Nigeria.

Cole has been awarded 63 honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, the Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League and the Alston-Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award. In 2010, Ebony Magazine listed her among the top 100 most influential African-Americans, and in 2011, Washingtonian Magazine listed her among Washington, D.C.’s most powerful women.

From 2004 to 2006, Cole was the chair of the board of United Way of America, the first African-American to serve in that position. She has served on the corporate boards of Home Depot, Merck and Nation’s Bank South and was also the first woman to serve on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Cole currently chairs the board of the National Visionary Leadership Project and she is on the Advisory Committee of America’s Promise and the Points of Light Foundation.

The lecture honors Mary Frances Early, the first African-American to earn a degree from UGA, and her legacy at the university. Early graduated with a master’s degree in music education in 1962 and completed her specialist in education degree in 1967.

It recognizes her dedication toward making UGA an institution of higher learning for all people. The lecture series strives to demonstrate the progress that has been made in achieving her vision as well as to identify the work that remains to be done.

The Mary Frances Early Lecture is sponsored by the Graduate School, Graduate and Professional Scholars and the Office of Institutional Diversity. For more information on the Mary Frances Early Lecture, see