Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

ACE Honors Johnnetta B. Cole With the 2013 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award

March 05, 2013

Wilson Diversity Award


​ACE named Johnnetta B. Cole, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and former president of Spelman College (GA) and Bennett College (NC), the 2013 recipient of the Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award.

The award is named in honor of Reginald Wilson, senior scholar emeritus at ACE and former director of the Council's Office of Minority Concerns, and was presented at ACE's 95th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. It is given every year to an individual who has made outstanding contributions and demonstrated sustained commitment to diversity in higher education.

"In her 40 years in American higher education and current role at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, Johnnetta Cole's powerful work to promote racial and gender equity has been an example for us all," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "It is an honor to present a person who represents such historic firsts and incredible results with the 2013 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award."

Cole became the first African-American woman to head Spelman College in 1987. Upon her inauguration, noted comedian Bill Cosby and his wife Camille donated $20 million to the college, and during her presidency, U.S. News & World Report ranked Spelman the number one regional liberal arts college in the South. Under her leadership, Spelman conducted a capital campaign that raised $113.8 million, the largest sum ever raised by a historically black college or university.

Wilson Diversity Award
Johnnetta Cole with Robert Caret, president of the University of Massachusetts, who presented the award. (Click to enlarge.)

In 2002, Cole became the only person to serve as president at both the historically black colleges for women in the country when she took the reins at Bennett College. During her tenure, Bennett opened an art gallery and initiated programs in women's studies and global studies.

Cole retired from Bennett College in 2009 to serve as the director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (NMAfA). Founded as a small museum on Capitol Hill in 1964, NMAfA became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, and in 1987 moved to its current location on the National Mall. Cole also currently serves on the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the construction of which will be completed on the National Mall by 2015.

Cole has conducted research in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, and has authored and edited several books and scores of scholarly articles. She is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Cole has been awarded 55 honorary degrees and has received numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award; the Radcliffe Medal; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; the 2001 Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America; the Joseph Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Anti-Defamation League; the Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women; the John W. Gardner Leadership Award from Independent Sector; the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award from the Points of Light Foundation; the 2011 George Washington Carver Award; and the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award. She was named one of Ebony magazine's most influential 100 African Americans in 2010 and Washingtonian magazine's 100 most powerful women in 2011.

From 2004-06, 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 both corporate and nonprofit boards, including Home Depot, Merck, NationsBank South and TransAfrica Forum. She was 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 board of KaBOOM! She is the founding chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute and is on the Advisory Committees of America's Promise Alliance and the Points of Light Foundation. Cole is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Links, and the National Council of Negro Women.

Cole holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College (OH), as well as a master's degree and doctorate in anthropology from Northwestern University (IL).

Previous Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award winners include: James M. Rosser, president of California State University, Los Angeles; Nancy Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse University (NY); Bob H. Suzuki, former president of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College (FL); William E. Cox, president and CEO of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education; Frank L. Matthews, editor-in chief of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education; James C. Moeser, chancellor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Diana S. Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso; Tomás Arciniega, president emeritus, California State University-Bakersfield; Jacquelyn Belcher, former president, Georgia Perimeter College; Jewel Plummer Cobb, president and professor of biological science emerita, California State University, Fullerton; Alfredo G. de los Santos, Jr., former vice chancellor for educational and student development, Maricopa Community Colleges (AZ), and research professor, Arizona State University; James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus, University of Michigan; Juliet V. García, president, University of Texas at Brownsville; Kenneth Gros Louis, chancellor, Indiana University-Bloomington; Tom Joyner, nationally syndicated radio personality and philanthropist; Frank H.T. Rhodes, president emeritus, Cornell University (NY); and John Brooks Slaughter, president and CEO, The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Photographs of the award presentation are available upon request.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Titterton ▪ 202-939-9368 ▪

Other ACE News

  • November 25, 2015

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    In today’s headlines, Inside Higher Ed examines how colleges and universities use discount rates as part of their recruitment strategies, with nearly 10 percent of colleges offering discount rates of 60 percent or more. In other news, the Pittsburgh...

  • Leading Internationalization

    November 23, 2015

    Map of South America

    Register Now for the 2016 Internationalization Collaborative

    ​ACE's Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement will host the 2016 Internationalization Collaborative, “Foundations for Global Learning: Internationalization in the General Education Curriculum,” Feb. 20 in Montreal.

  • Financial Aid

    November 23, 2015

    Students at graduation ceremony

    Perkins Loan Supporters Push for Reinstatement of the Program

    ​ACE, 53 higher education organizations and 535 colleges and universities are requesting a one-year extension of the Perkins Loan Program, which expired on Oct. 1.

  • ACE2016 - The ACE Annual Meeting

    November 18, 2015

    ACE2016 Logo

    Register Now for ACE2016

    Register by Dec. 1 to take advantage of the early bird registration discount for ACE2016, ACE’s 98th Annual Meeting, scheduled for March 12-15 in San Francisco.

  • Budget and Appropriations

    November 18, 2015

    Capitol steps

    Associations Ask Congress to Prioritize Higher Education in FY 2016 Labor-HHS Spending Bill

    ACE and a group of 21 higher education associations ask for higher education be made a priority as appropriations committees move forward on the remaining spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year.


 Related Content