Just as Georgia State has taken its innovative spirit to address major challenges facing society, including bridging gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion, the Groundbreaker Lecture Series recognizes those who have or who are changing the world. Through the series, the university honors individuals whose bold, brave actions have had a significant, positive impact that fundamentally advanced society for the better.
2023 LECTURE — Announcement & Registration Coming Soon!
Feb. 8, 2023
4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Student Center East
55 Gilmer St.
The Groundbreaker Lecture Series was launched by the Office of the Provost at Georgia State University during February 2020 to honor three brave women — Barbara Pace Hunt, Iris Mae Welch and Myra Payne Elliott — who sued in the 1950s for their right to enroll and attend Georgia State’s predecessor institution.
In 1956, the predecessor of Georgia State University denied admission to nine black applicants, including Ms. Hunt, Ms. Welch and Ms. Elliott. The three women coordinated with the NAACP and local activists to file a suit against the state of Georgia and the Board of Regents and won in the groundbreaking decision known as Hunt v. Arnold in 1959. The case became the NAACP’s first federal court victory against segregated education in Georgia. Despite the legal victory, the women were still blocked from enrolling at Georgia State by the legislature and the Board of Regents. Further, the women faced bigotry from high-profile political leaders and personal threats from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.
For their courage and persistence in the face of segregation and hatred, Ms. Hunt, Ms. Welch and Ms. Elliott were groundbreakers. Their case helped establish key legal precedents for subsequent litigation against racial discrimination in higher education across the United States. Today, Georgia State confers more bachelor’s degrees to African American students than any other non-profit university in the country.
Dr. Cole, the first African American woman president of Spelman College and later as president of Bennett College, is the only person to serve as president of both historically Black colleges for women in the United States.
She is an accomplished educator and museum professional, noted speaker and author on issues of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, and a committed advocate for social justice. She currently serves as the National Chair and Seventh President of the National Council of Negro Women, an advocacy organization with more than 2 million members, working in the interest of women’s rights and civil rights.
Over the course of her career, she has held teaching and administrative positions in anthropology, women’s studies, and African American studies at several major universities.
After retiring from academia, Dr. Cole served as the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art for eight years. Upon her retirement from the Smithsonian she received the title of Director Emerita. Following her years at the Smithsonian, Dr. Cole was a Principle Consultant with Cook Ross, a management consulting firm, where she co-led a Chief Diversity Officer Leadership Forum and worked with various companies to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces. As a Senior Consulting Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, she worked on initiatives on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in art museums and higher education.
Dr. Cole has a long history of community service. She was the first African American to serve as the Chair of the Board of United Way of America. Recently she was on the board of Martha’s Table, a nonprofit that supports children, families and communities in Washington, D. C. through quality education, healthy food and community support. She has also held leadership roles in a number of professional organizations, including the Association of Art Museums Directors where she served as the president and she co-led the American Alliance Museum’s Working Group on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion.
Dr. Cole has served on the corporate boards of Home Depot, Merck, and Nation’s Bank South. And she was the first woman appointed to the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, and a member of the Association of Black Anthropologists. She is a member of the, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Links, Inc., and a Life Member of NAACP.
Dr. Peniel Joseph served as the second annual Groundbreaker Lecture speaker, held virtually on Feb. 11, 2021. Dr. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founding director of the LBJ School’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD). His career focus has been on “Black Power Studies,” which encompasses interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies, law and society, women’s and ethnic studies, and political science.
A Professor of Public Affairs, Dr. Joseph holds a joint professorship appointment in the LBJ School and the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts at UT-Austin.
Prior to joining the UT faculty, Dr. Joseph was a professor at Tufts University, where he founded the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy to promote engaged research and scholarship focused on the ways issues of race and democracy affect people’s lives.
In addition to being a frequent commentator on issues of race, democracy and civil rights, Dr. Joseph’s most recent book is The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. He also wrote the award-winning books Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama.
His book Stokely: A Life has been called the definitive biography of Stokely Carmichael, the man who popularized the phrase “black power.” Included among Joseph’s other book credits is the editing of The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level.
At the inaugural event in 2020, which included a special ceremony to recognize Myra Payne Elliott, Barbara Hunt and Ida Mae Welch, Dr. Maurice C. Daniels, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work served as lecturer. He discussed Ground Crew: The Fight to End Segregation at Georgia State, which detailed the story of these three brave women who sued for their right for an equal education at the predecessor institution of GSU.
Dr. Daniels is cofounder and director of The Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies, which was established in 1999. He is the author of Saving the Soul of Georgia: Donald L. Hollowell and the Struggle for Civil Rights (Georgia), and Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence. He is also the executive producer of four critically acclaimed public television documentaries on the civil rights movement.
Read more about this special event and what the women faced, and watch both the lecture recording and a mini-documentary about the “ground crew” whose bravery led to change, by clicking the button below.