Hennessy recounts contributions of alumnus Albert Manley

President John Hennessy traditionally concludes his Commencement remarks by talking about a noteworthy alum; this year, he told the story of Albert E. Manley.

President John Hennessy has made it a tradition to conclude his Commencement remarks by talking about alumni who have demonstrated great personal vision and responsibility for the next generation. This year, Hennessy told the story of Albert E. Manley.

Believed to be the first African American to receive a doctoral degree from Stanford’s School of Education, Manley also was the first man and the first African American to serve as president of Spelman College—a historically black women’s institution in Atlanta. Manley was born in 1908 in Spanish Honduras to Jamaican parents as the fifth of seven children. His mother sent him to Guatemala and Belize during his early school years, and then to the United States to live with relatives.

Manley majored in physics and mathematics at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, where he graduated cum laude in the middle of the Great Depression. He worked as an English teacher at his high school alma mater in North Carolina and later became its principal.

In 1941, Manley earned a master’s degree in secondary school administration from Teachers College at Columbia University. That same year, he became the state supervisor of black high schools for North Carolina. He received a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1943 to study secondary schools and colleges on the West Coast. “Albert Manley then made the critical decision and chose to pursue a doctorate in education at Stanford,” Hennessy said.

After completing his EdD in 1946, Manley joined North Carolina College as its president, then served as president of Spelman from 1953 to 1976. Hennessy described those years as a momentous time in American history, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, followed by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the assassination of several of the nation’s leaders.

Under Manley’s leadership, Spelman strengthened its liberal arts curriculum to promote independent thinking and develop leadership skills that would enable students to make great contributions to human welfare. In his final commencement address at Spelman in 1976, Manley told the graduating class:

“Remember that the real challenge of your education is its ability to enable you to know how to think. … Remember that self-respect … is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations. It comes to us when we are alone in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it, knowing the beautiful, we have served it, knowing the truth, we have spoken it.”

Manley died in 1997.