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Spelman History is Black History

Spelman's History is Black History

Join us in Celebrating our Origins, Art, Activism and Innovation.

Throughout the month of February, we will celebrate some of Spelman's countless contributions to Black history. Stay tuned and the College's social media platforms for a month-long commemoration of Spelman origins, art, activism, innovation and more as we honor our past and reclaim our future. Spelman's history is Black history, and we are so excited to celebrate our legacy with you this February.  




Kimberly M. Jackson, Ph.D, professor and chair of Spelman's Department of Chemistry and director of the Food Studies Program, explains more about Spelman's history of food studies and offers her thoughts on a three-year partnership with Kellogg Company on the company's Social K blog. Spelman College students revive an agroecological Victory Garden.


...So, food is in our school's DNA. And we know it's in Kellogg's DNA too, ensuring there's a place at the table for everyone.

That's why it was an easy decision recently to partner with the company to help grow our food studies program and create a pipeline of career opportunities for our students.When we formed our partnership, Spelman was the only Historically Black College or University to have a food studies program. Our food program is different – we strive to offer students an interdisciplinary and critical lens to approach today's food system challenges. Our coursework engages multiple disciplines, such as anthropology, political science, women's studies, arts, geography, economics, biology, and chemistry, to name a few. 

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The Arts

Spelman Organist Joyce Johnson Honored

Professor emerita of music and Spelman’s beloved organist Dr. Joyce Finch Johnson, was feted at the Not Alone Foundation Inc. 8th Annual Diamonds Awards ceremony with the Diamonds Award Lifetime Achievement in Music Education. The educational leadership award signifies Dr. Johnson’s dedication and service to Spelman College and the world, while embracing philanthropy, humanitarian efforts and servant leadership.

From 1953 to 2024, Spelman students have witnessed Johnson at every special occasion at the College in her role as the College organist — from convocation to Founders’ Day, investitures and commencement — Johnson is a fixture as much as the Holtkamp organ at the center of Spelman’s historic Sisters Chapel.

For the artist’s many accolades as a global performer, music theorist and teacher, she is perhaps most well-known for being the organist who kept a two-day vigil, playing as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lay in repose at Spelman College Sisters Chapel for public viewing in April 1968.

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Innovation and Technology


African American contributions to innovation and technology have played an integral role in American society, economy, and culture. From the ironing board and heating furnace to 3D technology and rock and roll, our day-to-day would be unrecognizable without the countless contributions Black women have made to the world around us.

In the past, African American innovators, entrepreneurs and technologists defeated the odds, paving the way for Black girls and women of today to continue to innovate and create. 

This Black History Month, Spelman College is shining a light on the innovators who came before us and the new generation of Spelman College innovators that will follow. Join us as we honor our past contributions while celebrating new waves in technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. 

  • Jerry Volcy
    As part of Spelman College’s celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship this Black History Month, we sat down for a question and answer session with the director of the Innovation Lab, Jerry Volcy, Ph.D., Brown-Simmons Professor, to get his insights on everything from the new wave of AI in higher education to exciting events to look forward to this spring in the Innovation Lab.
  • Spelpreneur Chelsea Mendes
    Chelsea Mendes, C’2025, is a political science major on the pre-law track from Orlando, Florida. Raised by two social entrepreneurs, she says she witnessed firsthand how their dedication to their passion and talents positively impacted both themselves and their community. She cites their commitment to their craft as a major contributor to her own passion for entrepreneurship.
  • Spelpreneur Participant Lauren Thompson
    Lauren Thompson, C’2027, is a documentary filmmaking major and entrepreneurship minor from Silver Spring, Maryland, with a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation. Thompson says entrepreneurship allows her to have a creative outlet to express herself and give back to her community.

The Changemakers

Spelman has a long and storied history of developing today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders. When students graduate from Spelman, they are equipped with the knowledge, tools, and skills to not only thrive but to activate change that leads to a more just and equitable world.

This Black History Month, we are taking the time to acknowledge the women who set out to change the world as we know it, leaving an indelible mark on their own communities and the communities of those abroad. Whether it’s a positive impact next door or across the world, Spelman women make the consistent choice to change the world each and every day. Read more about each feature by selecting the headlines.  

  • Sheila Chamberlain 5
    Sheila L. Chamberlain, Ph.D., C’81, is a true fly girl. She’s a multitalented, beautifully spirited trailblazer, and has real wings. Chamberlain became the first Black woman combat intelligence pilot in the United States Army in 1985. The former United States Army flight captain is technically retired, but only on the paperwork.
  • Kamayah Scruggs
    Spelman College senior Kamayah Scruggs has been selected as a 2024 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Scruggs, an international studies major, is part of the 30-person cohort that will receive up to $66,000 toward a two-year graduate school program in international development or another area of relevance approved by the Payne Program. Fellows who complete the Payne Program and USAID Foreign Service entry requirements will receive full-time appointments as Foreign Service Officers with USAID following graduation.
  • Spelman alumna Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg and Aviation
    Spelman alumna Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg, C’29, was an American aviator, nurse and first Black woman to hold a commercial pilot license. As a 2022 inductee in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, her life and determination continues to inspire generations of aviators and women in the field of aviation. After graduating from Spelman in 1929 with a degree in nursing, Bragg landed a job at Wilson Hospital in Chicago. While in Illinois, she became the first Black woman to enroll in the Curtiss Wright School of Aeronautics, a segregated aviation school, to pursue an education in meteorology, aeronautics and aircraft mechanics. Four years later in 1933, she began matriculating at Curtiss Wright Aeronautical University -- the only woman in a class of 24 Black men. The school did not have any airplanes and thus could not provide flight instruction, but Bragg did not let that stop her. In 1934, she provided $600 of her own money to buy the school's first airplane.



On April 11, 1881, two women made history in the basement of a local church, with just $100 and a mission to educate Black women in the south. More than 142 years later, as we bask in the historic $100 million gift in honor of the 100th anniversary of being named Spelman College, it would be remiss to let this Black History Month pass without paying homage to the foundational members of this illustrious institution.

What began with just 11 students -- most of them formerly enslaved and unable to read -- has transformed into a bustling campus with over 2,500 students, all seeking higher education from what is now the #1 HBCU in the country. Against all odds, societal norms and expectations, the Black girls and women who studied at Atlanta Baptist Seminary persisted in pursuing a proper education. Their determination and perseverance laid the groundwork for every student and alumna that has graced Spelman’s campus since.

The years 1881-1924 were critical to the development of Spelman College as we know it today.  Join us as we take a closer look at the foundation of Spelman’s legacy.


Timeline Photos

These images are used in the Look Back video. Click or tap on photo to enlarge the photos for better viewing. 

Spelman History Basement of Friendschip Baptist Church

Friendship Baptist Church

Spelman Black History photo of Jane Anna Granderson and Claudia T White

Jane Anna Granderson
and Claudia T. White


Spelman College Catalog 1881

Spelman College Catalog 1881 Page 9

Spelman College 1881 Catalog


Spelman College History

Black History at Spelman College


Spelman College Graduates in the 1800s

Spelman College 1887 Graduates

Spelman College Seminary Students with Packard and Giles 1886