College Presidents and Civil Rights: A History, 1960-1964
Eddie Cole

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



College of William and Mary

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
In 1960, college presidents and chancellors across America faced a new and unusual challenge when the student civil rights uprising emerged. Before then, no national wave of student activism against racial inequality had washed over U.S. college campuses. Yet, in February 1960, four black students’ sit-in demonstration at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, ignited similar student demonstrations across the nation. This project follows presidents and chancellors through one of the most challenging periods in U.S. history.This is the first study of academic leaders’ responses to students’ off-campus protests against segregation, the issue of desegregating all-white colleges, and students’ on-campus demands for racial equality. As the movement unfolded, presidents and chancellors carefully balanced the demands of influential segregationists and a growing number of student demonstrators. This project uncovers how academic leaders positioned themselves within the national dialogue around desegregation and civil rights, and illuminates the pivotal decisions these leaders made during this national student movement. By doing so, this study challenges the prevailing historical narrative that typically focuses on student activists or elected officials. Instead, this project focuses on the chancellors and presidents of 25 institutions across the country. Based on archival research, this examination of academic leaders across different regions, private and state-supported institutions, and historically black and white colleges offers an untold account of one of America’s most notable racial crises from the perspective of presidents and chancellors.
About Eddie Cole
Eddie R. Cole is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary. Dr. Cole’s research examines college presidents’ and chancellors’ responses to student racial unrest in both historical and contemporary contexts. For example, his book chapter about Alfonso Elder, president of North Carolina Central from 1948 to 1963, illustrated the complex political maneuvering black college presidents utilized during the student civil rights uprising. Additionally, Dr. Cole’s analysis of college presidents’ statements on campus racial incidents was recently featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In summary, his research agenda centers on the investigation of academic leaders and student unrest. He used the NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship to advance his book project about presidents and chancellors and civil rights in the 1960s. This study will provide much-needed context for better understanding academic leaders’ role in the debate over social change. Prior to joining the faculty at William & Mary in 2013, Dr. Cole earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education at Indiana University (minor: Race and Rhetoric), and he completed his undergraduate studies at Tennessee State University, a historically black institution in Nashville.

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