Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Spelman: Issues of Gender and Race

BOND: Let me touch on something I missed when we introduced the subject, you are the first African-American woman to be president of this African-American women's college? Not the first woman --

COLE: In a hundred and seven years of its history. 

BOND: The first three presidents  are white women.

COLE: First four.  

BOND: First four. So you're guessing that the founders said: "Women's college, woman president." But in this era, a hundred-plus years ago, they got to be white women. And then a period ensues, a number of people come along, but none of them is an African-American woman. Why did it take the college so long?

COLE: Simplest answer: sexism. And racism. And the way that they combined in a black woman's presidency. I just think the prevailing notion was no one is worthy.

BOND: But you know, you think about the other, about Bennett. And Bennett had black women presidents. Why couldn't Spelman?

COLE: Good question. And I'm sure with complexities that we can't go into now as to who were the folk who really determined who would be Spelman's president. The forces, the families that had a great deal to say about all of that. But it is a shocking notion that it took a hundred and seven years for it to finally happen. My predecessor, Don Stewart, was so wonderfully gracious as he left Spelman and I came in. There was a period of time there when Don and I were together in Atlanta. And he just had a wonderful way of being in a setting and sticking out his hand and saying "I'm Don Stewart, the last male president Spelman College will ever have." No, in fact, he would say "the last black male president Spelman College would ever have." Don, I think, really went through a tough period there, because as you know when he was going through the process, the students -- they locked up the trustees --

BOND: Yeah.

COLE: -- for hours! And protested. And so I never forgot that my presence on that campus was directly related to the activism of students -- black women students.