Dr. Cole’s biography
Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole was appointed the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in March, 2009. Founded as a small museum on Capitol Hill in 1964, NMAfA became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, and in 1987 it moved to its current location on the National Mall. The museum’s collection of over 12,000 objects represents nearly every area of the continent of Africa and contains a variety of media and art forms. The National Museum of African Art also has an extensive education program. Since the mid-1980’s, Dr. Cole has worked with a number of Smithsonian programs. She 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 2016.Read More...
Before assuming her current position, Johnnetta Cole had a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. Through her work as a college president, university professor and through her published works, speeches, community service and consultations with corporations and not-for-profit organizations she consistently addresses racial, gender, and all other forms of inequality.
Dr. Cole served as president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. She is the only person to have served as president of these two historically Black colleges for women in the United States. She is also Professor Emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African American Studies.
After one year in an early entrance program at Fisk University and completing her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College, Johnnetta Cole earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University with a focus on African Studies. Dr. Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. During her presidency, Spelman was named the number one liberal arts college of the South. During her presidency at Bennett College for Women, an art gallery was opened and programs were initiated in women’s studies and global studies.
Dr. Cole has conducted research in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, and she has authored and edited several books and scores of scholarly articles. She is the President of the board of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). She is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She serves on the board of Gregory University, in Uturu, Nigeria. Dr. Cole is also a member of the Toni Morrison Society.
Johnnetta Cole has been awarded 68 honorary degrees and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Awards; the Radcliffe Medal; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; 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; the Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women; the Straight for Equality award from Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG); 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 George Washington Carver award; the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award; and the Alston-Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award. In 2010, Ebony Magazine listed her among the 100 most influential African Americans, in 2011 Washingtonian Magazine listed her among Washington, DC’s most powerful women and in 2015 BET (Black Entertainment Television) awarded her the BET Honors award for education.
On December 8, 2012, in Uturu, Nigeria, an Igbo Chieftaincy title of ADAOHA (Daughter of All) was conferred on Dr. Cole by His Royal Highness Eze Cyril Ibe, EzeOgbonnaya Uwadiegwu and Eze Chimezie.
From 2004 to 2006, Dr. 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. She was the first woman to serve on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises.
Dr. Cole is on the Advisory Committee of America’s Promise and Points of Light Foundation. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Links, Inc., and the National Council of Negro Women.
Dr. Cole is married to James D. Staton Jr. She is the mother of three sons and one step–son, and she has three grand children. Dr. Cole is also a mentor to many young women and men.
Photo credit: Jessica Suworoff, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole Receives “BET Honors” 2015 Education Award
The 2015 “BET Honors” (Black Entertainment Television) ceremony took place on Saturday, Jan. 23 at Washington DC’s Warner Theater. Museum director Johnnetta Betsch Cole was awarded BET’s 2015 education award for her lifelong work. It was a very special evening for Dr. Cole. It was exceptional for the National Museum of African Art with a number of media clips from the evening referencing the museum.
BET’s video tribute to Dr. Cole, which aired during the ceremony, focused largely on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Dr. Cole’s life and her achievements as a lifelong educator. All of the honorees referenced Dr. Cole in their acceptance speeches when talking about education.
Other honorees included: Singer songwriter Usher Raymond; John W. Thompson (first black chairman of Microsoft, former CEO of virtual instruments); Actress Phylicia Rashad and Rapper Kanye West.
Around Town, Around the World
“Rhythms Changing America ” — a discussion and concert exploring the links between Africa and Jazz — America’s original music.
Watch as Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the National African Art Museum, talks with National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Randy Weston and historian Wayne Chandler, author of Ancient Future, about “Africa and Jazz,” uncovering stories and images of Africa’s roots in America’s history through jazz, other musical genres and social/cultural norms that have transformed the nation.
Part one: Interview
Part two: Concert
Director’s Discussion Series
With Jill Scott
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art was in conversation with Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, New York Times bestselling poet and critically acclaimed actress Jill Scott as part of Cole’s Director’s Discussion Series. The event was held Friday, Aug. 9, at the Rasmuson Theater in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
With Maya Angelou
Watch and listen to NMAfA Director Johnnetta Betsch Cole in conversation with Maya Angelou.
The conversation took place at the National Museum of American Indian on Friday, February 1, 2013 as part of the National Museum of African Art’s Director’s Discussion Series.
With Marcus Samuelsson
Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole hosted celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson for the second edition of the National Museum of African Art’s Director’s Discussion Series on Friday, July 27 at the Hirshhorn Museum. We are delighted so many of you were able to attend. Please enjoy some photographs from the discussion.
With Kwame Anthony Appiah
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art sits with acclaimed philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton University) to discuss and interrogate the category of race and the future of museums. Appiah shares his personal reflections and philosophical investigations on race and considers notions of cultural identity and shared humanity.
Other linksQ&A with Johnnetta Cole at C-SPAN (2014)
Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, talked about the museum as it marked its fiftieth anniversary. She also spoke about her career as an educator and administrator, as president of both Spelman and Bennett colleges, as well as race relations and her opposition to the Vietnam War. (C-SPAN)
In collaboration with Smithsonian colleagues from the National Museum of African Art, the National Portrait Gallery hosted an event on Saturday, April 5, in which both museums paid tribute to Maya Angelou, one of the most revered poets in the United States. Angelou, whose eighty-sixth birthday was April 4—the day before—commented on what she considered was one of her great achievements over eight decades—patience. “You can only have patience if you have courage,” she stated, adding that “Reverend [Martin Luther] King had great patience.”
During the event at the McEvoy Auditorium in the Donald W. Reynolds Center, a portrait of Angelou by Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin was unveiled. Assisting Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and NMAfA director Johnnetta Cole in the unveiling was Angelou’s friend and protégé Oprah Winfrey. Guests in attendance included actress Cicely Tyson, activist Julian Bond, and former ambassador Andrew Young.
Full article is available on the National Portrait Gallery’s FaceToFace blog.
After the unveiling Dr. Angelou and Dr. Cole engaged in a spirited conversation about courage, justice, birthdays and life. Please enjoy.Listen here
For the second year in succession, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Director Johnnetta Betsch Cole was named on Washingtonian magazine’s list of the 100 powerful female leaders in Washington DC. The awards luncheon took place on Friday, October 8, at the St. Regis Hotel in North West Washington DC.
Washingtonian magazine’s list of the top 100 powerful women honors and celebrates the accomplishments of women who have made it to the top of their fields. The list includes creative thinkers and innovators in the arts, education, sciences and humanities, business, health and medicine, religion and law.
Cole joins an illustrious and select band of fellow honorees including Donna Edwards, US congresswoman, Teresa Chambers, chief of the US park police, Valerie Ervin, Montgomery County Md. Council president, Janet Howell, Democratic Virginia state senator, Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington police department, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington delegate to congress, Ingrid Turner, chair of Prince George’s County Md. council, Marion C. Blakey, president and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association.
Awardees were asked to choose a woman to accompany them to the luncheon with “talent and tenacity” that Washingtonian magazine should watch for in the future. Dr. Cole chose Nicole Shivers, Education Specialist at the National Museum of African Art.
The Constituency for Africa hosted a reception to welcome the African Union to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, at the National Museum of African Art on the occasion of the second annual United States-African Union High Level Bilateral Meetings.
Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of the National Museum of African Art welcomed everyone and gave opening remarks.
Melvin P. Foote, President and CEO of the Constituency for Africa, said of the reception, “We were particularly pleased to be able to host our guests at the National Museum of African Art and to be surrounded by works of art showcasing the beauty, power and diversity of African culture,” continued Foote.
Distinguished guests on the night included His Excellency Dr. Jean Ping, Chair of the African Union Commission, Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative; Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the Unites States Agency for International Development; Ambassador Michael A. Battle, United States Ambassador to the African Union; and Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Dr. Ping and Ambassador Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative, both received awards from the Constituency for Africa for their commitment to advancing the positive promotion of a vibrant relationship between the people of Africa, the diaspora and the people of the United States.
Interview with Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and curator Karen Milbourne on the “Africa Now” show Pacifica radio (WPFW 89.3FM) with host Mwiza Munthali.
Host Mwiza Munthali speaks with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, and Karen Milbourne, curator about the museum’s exciting new exhibition African Mosaic: A Decade of Collecting and other upcoming programs.
NPR interview with Dr. Johnetta Betsch Cole and host of “Tell me More” Michel Martin
African Mosaic, the newest exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, includes modern and contemporary, popular and traditional works. Host Michel Martin speaks with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, about the collection as well as her first year at the helm.
On Thursday 16, September Dr. Cole served as mistress of ceremonies for this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation opening ceremony titled, “The Celebration of 40 Years of Leadership” at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The event provided an opportunity to also honor Congresswoman Barbara Lee for her tireless work in public service.
Among the 300 guests in attendance were Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner and U.S. Army General William “Kip” Ward. The event also brought together members of Congress and the diplomatic corp.
Dr Cole stated, “You know who Congresswoman Barbara Lee is, what she stands for and what she continues to accomplish as she represents California’s ninth congressional district, and indeed as she advocates for the rights of all of us no matter where we come from.”
Dr. Cole also thanked Donald Payne for his tireless work for Africa. In her remarks, Dr Cole said, “What a privilege it is to present the Congressman who is often referred to as Mr. Africa, and well he should be – for Congressman Donald Payne is the American democratic politician who has consistently and effectively led the struggle in Congress for appropriate support of the people of the continent that is the cradle of humanity.”
Renowned soul artist Goapele performed a selection of her songs throughout the night.
Congressman Donald M. Payne hosted the Foreign Affairs Brain Trust at the Washington Convention Center on September 17, 2010. Dr. Cole was invited to offer special remarks alongside Congressman Payne, Rajiv Shah of USAID, Reed Kramer of AllAfrica.com and Luis Moreno Ocampo of the International Criminal Court. The Congressman was honored to welcome President Salva Kiir, Government of Southern Sudan, who presented the keynote address.
The conference, which ran throughout the morning, was organized to coincide with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 40th Annual Legislative Conference. The designated topic was “Africa Forging Ahead: Meeting the Millennium Development Goals, Justice, Accountability & the Rold of U.S. Policy.” A distinguished group of panelists were on hand to consider the remarks, and an invitation-only group of 300 were in attendance.
Salva Kiir, president of the Government of Southern Sudan, will present a special keynote address.
Johnnetta Cole, Director, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Reed Kramer, CEO, AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com)
Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court
Ebraham Rasool, South African Ambassador to the United States
AbdulKareem Jama, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor, President of Somalia
Darius Mans, President of Africare
Dikembe Mutombo, President and Chairman of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation
Cassandra Butts, Senior Advisor, Milllennium Challenge Corporation
John McArthur, CEO, Millennium Promise
John Prendergast, Co-Founder, Enough Project
Walter Jones, Executive Director, African Development Bank
Published in the Washington Post, 09/17/10
On Wednesday, September 15, 2010, at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., Dr. Cole was among the proud recipients of the African American Women in Excellence award, presented by publishing company Who’s Who.
During the ceremony Who’s Who Publishing Company, which publishes the nation’s largest annual directory focusing on the African-American market, unveiled its highly anticipated second edition of Who’s Who In Black Washington, D.C.
In addition to the nearly 300 honorees listed in the new edition, master of ceremonies Guy Lambert of WPGC 95.5 FM welcomed dignitaries and local leaders. With a foreword penned by Alexis Herman, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, the new edition of Who’s Who particularly celebrates African-American Women of Excellence. At the ceremony, other recipients included Judge Inez Smith Reid and Artis Hampshire-Cowan, as well as Emerging Leaders Under 40. Who’s Who also paid tribute to First Lady Michelle Obama and the late Dr. Dorothy Height.
Commenting at the event, Carter D. Womack, associate publisher for Who’s Who In Black Washington, D.C., stated, “I am extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to revisit Washington, D.C., with this second edition. The women throughout this community have accomplished successful careers and continue to serve as role models to our female youth. Thank you for your contributions.”
Notes to editors
1. Who’s Who Publishing Company, subsidiary of Real Times Media, was founded in 1989 and highlights the achievements of African Americans while providing a valuable resource and networking guide for the entire community. Real Times Media Inc. is dedicated to sustaining its presence as the leading source of African-American-related news, entertainment and lifestyle information.
2. For Press enquiries, including interview bids, please contact Edward Burke, Public Affairs Specialist, The Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Tel: 202 633 4660
Nearly half a century ago, a man named Warren Robbins opened his basement gallery of African art to the public. Today, that underground exhibition is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. The museum is often overshadowed by better-known offerings on the Mall, but it’s about to launch its most ambitious exhibition ever. We talk with its new leader, former Spelman College President Johnnetta B. Cole.