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Spelman Honors the Life and Legacy of the Dean Emeritus of Sisters Chapel, The Reverend Dr. Norman M. Rates

Reverend Rates

Spelman College celebrates the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Norman M. Rates, dean emeritus of Sisters Chapel, who passed away on Sunday, April 5, 2015. 

During his 48-year career at Spelman, Reverend Rates established the spiritual foundation of the campus and ensured a sound moral and ethical community for generations of Spelman women. For him to have transitioned from this life on the day recognized as Easter Sunday, and during the week of the founding of Spelman College, is simply profound.

Celebration of Life: April 18, 2015

The memorial service for Reverend Rates will be held on Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Sisters Chapel on the Spelman College campus.

11 a.m.           Family Visitation

11:30 a.m.     Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
                         Omega Service

12 p.m             Memorial Service

Spelman College alumnae and students are asked to wear the traditional white attire. Faculty and staff are invited to wear white attire or shades of blue.

Cards and Condolences

Cards and condolences can be sent to:
The Rates Family
c/o Spelman College
Office of College Relations
350 Spelman Lane, SW., Box 2023
Atlanta, Georgia 30314-4399

Memorial gifts can be directed to the Norman M. and Laura Lymen Rates Endowed Scholarship and sent to:

Spelman College
Office of Annual Giving, Box 1551
Atlanta, Georgia 30314-4399
Please make checks payable to Spelman College. Gifts can be made online at

Leaving His Legacy: 'May Thy Dear Walls Remain'

Since 1954, Rev. Rates and Sisters Chapel have played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, the development of the College's rich musical legacy, and so many other transformative experiences.

Perhaps reading and sharing Rev. Rates' memoir, "May They Dear Wall Remain," is the most fitting tribute one could give to someone so respected and loved by the Spelman community.

Remembering Rev. Rates

His Memories . . . His Legacy . . . Our History

Remembering Rev. Rates
Remembering Reverend Rates

The following  book review of "May Thy Dear Walls Remain: Memoirs of a College Minister at Sisters Chapel at Spelman College" explains why Rev. Rates will be remembered by the Spelman community.

Originally featured in the 2011 fall edition of
the Spelman Messenger
By Angela Brown Terrell

For some 48 years, anyone coming to events at Sisters Chapel on the Spelman College campus in Atlanta was sure to encounter the Rev. Norman Rates, the college minister. Since his arrival in 1954, few could miss his smile and friendly countenance, or his joyful chuckle. For those many years he has served in various capacities from professor of religion, to college minister, to dean of the Chapel. 

He certainly can be deemed the “Keeper of the Faith” on the campus, as he played a prominent role in assuring that the Chapel was restored and preserved during a campaign in 2000.

Now Rev. Rates shares hiscountless memories of campus life from his venue of the Chapel, the Chapel’s history and its role in being the center of campus life. Dedicated in 1927, the Chapel (named for the two Spelman sisters, who were the mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, and aunt, Lucy Maria Spelman, of benefactor John D. Rockefeller Jr.) was built to support the religious life of the campus.

To this day, the Chapel stands – its white Grecian columns gleaming in the sunlight, its broad solid door ready to open to all those seeking wisdom, peace and solace inside.

In addition to serving students in weekly services and convocations, it hosts community events such as musical concerts, the famed Christmas Carol Concerts, dance recital and theater productions.

There have been visits by internatioally and nationally prominent civil rights activists, performers, politicians and theologians, including Dr. Howard Thurman, Dr. W.E. B. Dubois, Vernon Johns, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Benjamin Mays, the Hon. Andrew Young, Jr. and Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, C’70, to name just a few.

It was in Sisters Chapel where the slain civil rights leader Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. would lie in state for 48 hours as miles of mourners filed by. Concerts always attracted a full audience to hear the likes of Marian Anderson, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Wynton Marsalis, Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Verrette, Roland Hayes, Eartha Kitt, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Arturo Toscanini, to list a sampling. Rev. Rates noted,“The Spelman College Jazz Ensemble was founded by Joseph Jennings in 1983 and it became a nationally acclaimed women’s orchestra.

There is so much history packed in this memoir, and it’s impossible to touch on it all. One interesting portion lists the memories held by some of the alumnae, which vary from lighthearted to profound and reflect the different eras.

Rev. Rates and his wife, Laura, who raised their two daughters on campus, have been as much a part of the development of Spelman College as any of the other notable souls who have graced this campus. Spanning his tenure from 1954 to his retirement in 2002, Rev. Rates’ observances recorded in this volume will give readers an inside view that will remain priceless an testament to the College’s history.

ANGELA BROWN TERRELL is a writer and editor based in Columbia, Maryland.

Share Your Fond Memories of Rev. Rates and Condolences on Spelman's Facebook Page


Farewell: May Peace With Thee Abide . . .

Remembering Reverend Rates