Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Biography of Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Johnnetta Betsch Cole (born October 19, 1936) is an American academic. Cole was the first African American female president of Spelman College from 1987-1997. She was president of Bennett College from 2002-2007. She is currently serving as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art.


Cole is the grand daughter of Florida's first black millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis and Mary Kingsley Sammis, the great granddaughter of Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and slave owner, and his wife and former slave Anna Madgigine Jai, originally from current Senegal, whose Fort George Island home is protected as Kingsley Plantation. Cole enrolled in Fisk University at age 15, but transferred to Oberlin College, where she completed a B.A. in anthropology in 1957. She attended graduate school at Northwestern University, earning her masters (1959) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. Cole received honorary degrees from Williams College and Bates College in 1989, Mount Holyoke College in 1998, Mills College in 1999, Howard University and North Carolina A&T State University in 2009.


Cole taught briefly at the University of California, Los Angeles (1964) and directed the Black Studies program at Washington State University at Pullman (1969-70) before teaching in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1970-83), where she also served as provost of undergraduate education from 1981 to 1983. 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. In 1983, she joined the faculty of Hunter College, where she directed the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program. Cole also taught in the Anthropology department of Emory University where she is now Presidential Distinguished Professor Emerita.


Cole has served at the Merck Board of Directors since 1994. She is the first woman elected to the board of Coca Cola. From 2004 to 2006, Cole was the Chair of the Board of Trustees of United Way of America and serves on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Greater Greensboro.

Cole is currently the Chair of the The Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute founded at Bennett College for Women. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

[Report Error]