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Black History Month


Educator followed her life's passion

Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole became an anthropologist, professor, researcher, lecturer and the first female president of Spelman College, the historically black, all-female college in Atlanta, because she followed her mom's advice.

Growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., Cole was told: ''When it comes to choosing your life's work, follow your passion.''

And she did. Cole grew up with a keen interest in education and academics and decided to dedicate herself to lifelong learning.

Because she was such an intelligent and motivated student in high school, Cole was able to enter Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., under its early admissions program. She was 15.

However, tired of the South and its segregation, she left Fisk to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, where she received her bachelor's degree in sociology.

From there she attended Northwestern University in Illinois, where she received her master's and doctorate degrees in anthropology.

At Northwestern, Cole wrote ''All American Women: Lines That Divide, Ties That Bind.'' Her book broke new ground in women's studies because of its sensitivity to inequalities based on race, class and gender.

''I have lived and studied, taught and written . . . that women can become full productive and equal members of the society in which they live,'' she said.

Believing also that black women should excel, Cole accepted the presidency of Spelman. Before she resigned last year, the position earned her great praise and affection.

During her 10 years there, she called the 1,700 students at Spelman her daughters, and they warmly greeted her as ''Sister President.''

Cole also led the school in a major campaign that brought in more than $113 million, the largest sum ever raised by an historically black college.

After a year off, Cole joined the faculty of Emory University.

l-- By Angela Dyer and E. Dyer

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