Universities: Past, Present, and Future
Eddie R. Cole, College of William and Mary

College Presidents and Racial Unrest: A Civil Rights History


Eddie R. Cole
Assistant Professor in Higher Education, School of Education & Affiliate Assistant Professor, Lyon G. Tyler Department of History
College of William and Mary

Commentary by

John Silvanus Wilson
President in Residence, Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Previously, President of Morehouse College and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities


College presidents faced a new and unusual challenge when the student civil rights uprising emerged during the early 1960s. At the time, much like today, student unrest forced college presidents to address complicated questions about race, democracy, and higher education. During this talk, Eddie R. Cole will disrupt the prevailing historical narrative that has pushed college presidents to the margins of history as passive actors while elected officials and activists debated civil rights. In doing so, Dr. Cole’s discussion of his national study of nearly 30 U.S. colleges and universities will illuminate the collective influence of college presidents on civil rights, and reimagine the long history of academic leaders and racial conflict and its relevance to today’s social and political climate.