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Joyce Ladner, Howard’s First Female President, Reflects on Black Sociology

By Tamryn Sainten

Howard University News Service

The reading room in Douglass Hall was silent, save for the voice of Joyce Ladner, Ph.D., Howard University’s first and only female president, who served in an interim role from 1994 to 1995. 

Ladner peered over her glasses at the audience members, who filled nearly every chair in the space. 

The recent lecture in the E. Franklin Frazier Speaker Series, facilitated by Howard’s Department of Sociology and Criminology, aimed to give insight not only into Ladner’s life but also the role of Black women in sociology and advocacy. 

Ladner discussed her journey as a scholar-activist and how she got her start at Tougaloo College, an HBCU in Jackson, Mississippi, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The period fueled Ladner’s interest in sociology along with her peers in the “Emmett Till Generation,” which referenced the 1955 torture and lynching of a 14-year-old  Black boy from Chicago who was visiting her home state, Mississippi. 

“We vowed to avenge his death,” Ladner said, relating to her passion for what she described as radical political activism. Ladner was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and helped to organize the March on Washington. She and her activist sister, Dorie Ann Ladner, are depicted in these roles in the new film “Rustin,” named for Bayard Rustin who orchestrated the march.

In terms of how she hopes to influence the next generation of Black female sociologists, she urged them to challenge the status quo. 

Afterward, department chair Carollette Norwood presented  Ladner with a 1986 photograph of her teaching at Howard that she had not seen in years. 

During the question and answer session, an audience member asked Ladner how she maintained her courage in times of distress. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to persevere in spite of it,” Ladner responded, evoking applause from the crowd. 

Denae Bradley, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in sociology, said the event gave her encouragement to keep going in her own graduate studies. 

“Someone as great as the Joyce Ladner was here to talk about her humble beginnings, and where she is now, and all that she accomplished throughout her career,” Bradley said. 

Her statement reflected Norwood’s hope to create a women’s gender and sexuality course to celebrate Black women. 

“I’m hoping students feel inspired from important historical figures such as  Ladner,”  Norwood says. “What often happens to Black women in particular is our stories are unknown and untold, and so we remain in this realm of invisibility.” 

Cassandra Veney, the executive director of the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership, shared a similar sentiment. 

“I think this will allow young people, students, to get a better idea of if this is something they want to do in the future,” Veney said.  

The Reporter Newspaper
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