I read with great interest the March 29 article on the sister presidents of Bennett and Spelman in Black Issues In Higher Education. I was indeed surprised to see that the writer did not refer to the first woman president of Bennett College, Dr. Willa B. Player. Dr. Player served Bennett during the mid-50s through the mid-60s when she left Bennett to take a position at the U.S. Department of Education. On her retirement from the Education Department, she volunteered quietly with the UNCF, evaluating scholarship applications among her efforts.
Dr. Player is in her nineties and continues to reside in Greensboro, N.C., although she is not physically well. She presided over Bennett with a stellar but quiet dignity. Before becoming president, she had served as vice-president, college registrar and French instructor. She studied at the Sorbonne in France and conducted seminal studies on the education of Black women.
Dr. Player encouraged us to participate in the sit-ins and civil rights demonstrations in the ’60s. Contrary to popular opinion, it was Bennett students who were also leaders in the well-celebrated dime store sit-ins in Greensboro. That movement was organized at Bennett. The strategy for the Greensboro Four to sit at the counters while we shopped was made at Bennett. We decided that the men would sit in the event that there would be beatings — and the men wished to protect us.
She is known in Greensboro for having invited Dr. Martin Luther King to speak on the campus when no other institution, including churches, would have him.
An article in your paper about Dr. Player would be inspiring to other African American women in academia or for that matter in any profession.
Thanks for listening,
Gwendolyn Mackel Rice
Bennett College ’61
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