Johnnetta Betsch Cole, author and editor of numerous books, is President Emerita of Spelman and Bennett Colleges, Director Emerita of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art, and former Chair and President of the National Council of Negro Women. She lives in Florida.
This chapter features four speeches that reflect on Johnnetta Betsch Cole's origin stories—her background, childhood, and educational journey. In her 2015 speech at Medtronic, she shares lessons learned from her childhood in the segregated South. In her 2013 Alumnae Award acceptance speech at Northwestern University, she discusses her initial exposure to anthropology at Oberlin College, her graduate training with Melville Herskovits, and her early fieldwork experience in Liberia. In her 2007 speech, “Three Stations along My Journey as a Citizen Volunteer,” she reflects on her family history of service and lessons learned from her experiences in the public sector. Finally, in her speech at the Lincoln Memorial, she traces her ancestry back to a woman from the African continent to reflect upon the continuing significance of the Gettysburg Address. Ultimately, the origin stories revealed through these speeches exemplify the feminist adage that “the personal is political.”