It took more than a century for the college founded specifically for the education of black women to hire one as president. But in 1987, Johnnetta Betsch Cole became the first black woman to serve as president of Spelman College. Known affectionately as "Sister President," she was a dynamic leader, who led the college during a time of heightened visibility as the school's national rankings and endowment increased. It was under Cole that Spelman got one of the largest single gifts in HBCU history, $20 million from Bill and Camille Cosby for the construction of the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D. Academic Center, which houses the Spelman Museum of Fine Art. Cole led the college's most successful capital campaign, "The Spelman Campaign: Initiatives for the 90s," which raised $113.8 million for the endowment. In 1992, Spelman announced the receipt of $37 million from the DeWitt Wallace/Readers Digest Fund – the largest gift ever given to a historically Black college. The campaign brought Spelman's endowment to $141 million, the largest of any HBCU. Cole left Spelman in 1997. In 2002, she became the president of Bennett College in North Carolina, the only other HBCU dedicated to educate Black women. She is currently the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
Rene Syler, former co-host of CBS News' "The Early Show" from 2002 to 2006, and the author of “Good Enough Mother, the Perfectly Imperfect Book Of Parenting,” is shown with permed hair in this photo. But she switched to natural about seven years ago. Here's what she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sept. 22, 2015: "I spent two decades in TV news. That meant relaxing my hair straight, coloring it, blowing it dry and using curling irons. After I left CBS, I was traveling around the country on a book tour and got sick on a plane. I was hospitalized and pumped full of medication. When I got out of the hospital, I went to the hairdresser to get my hair relaxed. The chemicals counteracted with the medication in my body and my hair started breaking off and falling out." (Photo courtesy of Rene Syler)
"I made a really big decision at that point. No more chemicals. Even if it meant never having another TV job. I was never going to put another chemical in my hair," Rene Syler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sept. 22, 2015. "I went on YouTube and learned how to care for my own hair. ... That was in 2009, and I have been natural since. And for the first time in my life, I actually LOVE my hair. Now, regarding TV news, I understand there are styles that are acceptable for certain professions. The thing that I cannot and will not tolerate is the assertion that natural hair is not professional. That's just not right or correct." (Photo courtesy of Rene Syler)
Rene Syler (shown, from left, with Joe Lawson, Karen Lorenz and Paul Butler on June 20, 2014, at Soho House in New York City) also had plenty to say about Greenville, N.C., television anchor Angela Green recently urging an intern to consider straightening her hair for the sake of her career. "On Angela Green's advice, I think part of the issue, and why there was such an uproar, is that people were looking for her to offer (her intern) another solution other than straightening her hair," Syler said on Sept. 22, 2015. "And while she didn't suggest that Madison (the intern) chemically straighten her hair, she did say straighten it, implying that it be done with heat, which can be just as damaging. Madison's hair is big in its natural state. Perhaps a nice bun, or pulling it back in a well-kempt braid, would have worked. There are a lot of options, and they don't have to be damaging. ... We as black women with natural hair are frankly tired of being told that what we have naturally isn't good enough. I get having to accommodate an employer, but there are ways to do it without damaging your hair permanently." (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for UP TV)
Still one of Atlanta’s most famous faces, Monica Pearson retired after 37 years as an anchor for WSB-TV in 2012. She was almost as famous for her ever-changing hairstyles as for her Hall of Fame news career. Here she shares a hug with station manager Marian Pittman (left) on July 25, 2012, Pearson's last day as anchor. She spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week about hair in the newsroom. "To me hair is an accessory until it becomes a distraction. If people are spending more time looking at and talking about your hair, rather than listening to what you are saying, the hair takes away from your ability to communicate. Big hair is never great on the air, whether it is a bouffant, a natural, super curly frizzy hair or braids. (Yes, there is an MSNBC reporter with braids, but she didn't start out that way, I bet. She earned the right to be herself). When I came to WSB I had an Afro but understood that on the 6 p.m. news and as the first woman and minority -- black person -- I had to compromise. Being black and female was enough of a distraction. No, WSB didn't ask me to straighten my hair but I understood the climate of 1975. Sometimes you have to change your look to get in the door, but once you prove that you can do the job well and are an asset, have a great work ethic and are involved in the community, then you can change your hair. What's in your head is more important than what is on your head, but most people don't judge women journalists that way on first glance." (John Spink/JSPINK@AJC.COM)
Nikki Giovanni, renowned poet and professor at Virginia Tech, is an outspoken pioneer of the Black Arts Movement, which was influenced by the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s. In her classic poem, “Ego Tripping,” she said, “The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents.” She is shown here in April 2007, delivering a passionate closing at a convocation to honor the victims of a shooting rampage that month at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Delivering a double dose of natural-hair glory, Melissa Harris-Perry, master of ceremonies, is joined by Nikki Giovanni at the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp Dedication on April 7, 2015, at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the hit ABC sit-com “Black-ish,” has worn her hair in a variety of natural styles her entire career. In an interview about natural hair with Essence.com, Ellis Ross said, “Anybody that tells you that there's a way to do something — whether it be hair, dating, anything — there's no such thing. We're all different, it works differently for each of us and I think you should really let yourself find your own way.” (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)