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Lomax, Michael L.(1947–) - Chronology, Black College Leader

atlanta dillard university students

1947

Born in Los Angeles, California on October 2

1968

Graduates magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Morehouse College; later earns M.A. from Columbia University

1969

Marries Pearl Cleage

1973

Becomes speech writer for Maynard Jackson’s first mayoral campaign

1975–78

Directs parks, libraries, and cultural and international affairs for city of Atlanta

1978–81

Serves as member at large of the Fulton County Arts Council

1979

Sponsors legislation to create the Fulton County Arts Council

1981–93

Chairs the Fulton County Board of Commissioners

1984

Receives Ph.D. in African and African American literature from Emory University

1986

Marries Cheryl Ferguson

1988

Founds and serves as first chairman, National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta

1989

Runs unsuccessfully for mayor of Atlanta against Maynard Jackson

1993

Runs unsuccessfully for mayor of Atlanta against Bill Campbell

1994–97

Becomes president of the National Faculty headquartered in Atlanta

1997–2004

Serves as president of Dillard University in New Orleans

2004

Becomes president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund

Black College Leader

Lomax had long been attracted to leadership positions in historically black colleges. He was an unsuccessful finalist for the presidency of his alma mater, Morehouse College. After that, he was presented with an offer that took him from Atlanta. In search of the best possible presidential candidate to lead the institution, Dillard University in New Orleans named Michael L. Lomax its president; on July 1, 1997, he succeeded Samuel Du Bois Cook in that post. Many Atlantans were unhappy to see one of its most distinguished citizens go. “What a pity it is for Atlanta to lose him,” wrote Colin Campbell for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

Lomax sought the college presidency of a historically black institution, located in a city, and possessing a solid financial base. Dillard, one of the premier small, black, liberal arts colleges in the South, met these criteria. The school enjoyed a rich history. It was founded in 1935 when the financially strapped Straight University merged with New Orleans University to create an academically and fiscally healthier academic institution. Strait had been one of seven institutions founded shortly after the Civil War by the American Missionary Association for the express purpose of educating African American students; their charters prescribed a racial mix of students. These schools and other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) became the first producers of this country’s black educated, professional, and leadership class. In his “Testimony Before the House Subcommittee on Twenty-first Century Competitiveness and Select Education,” Lomax mentioned such black luminaries as Ruth Simmons, a Dillard alumna and now president of Brown University, and Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse graduate. He challenged others to invest in education, saying that education is the most important single investment one can make, telling Colin Campbell for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that people who talk about apologizing for slavery could do something better—offer better schooling for blacks. “The 40 acres and a mule should be traded in for a four-year college scholarship,” he said.

His interest in HBCUs may have grown out of a familial relationship with these institutions. The Lomax family had been educated at HBCUs over a period of one hundred and thirty years. Michael Lomax saw the HBCUs in a positive light and believed in their importance in society. They played an important role in the future of black Americans and the shaping of the United States. The private ones in particular “are experiencing a renaissance,” he told John D. Thomas for Emory Magazine . He saw a resurging interest among students in the HBCUs. He believed that educators finally realized that there is “no cookie-cutter education in America” and that people require different approaches to education. “An experience which celebrates their racial heritage at the same time that it introduces students to a rigorous academic environment” worked well at Dillard and other places as well.

On assuming the presidency, Lomax took with him what he called a small “Atlanta mafia,” including people who had worked with him in Fulton County and on the Atlanta Olympics. Lomax undertook an ambitious repositioning at Dillard as he challenged his new academic and development teams to assist him in re-imagining and reinventing Dillard’s role as an HBCU. He wanted the team to continue to honor and respect the tradition and excellence that the school had known in the past, and his approach to leadership was student-focused. Lomax’s first initiative was an aggressive multi-million-dollar renovation program. This initiative resulted in the building of the first new academic facility the college had seen since 1993—the Dillard University International Center for Economic Freedom. Seeing that the living and learning environment needed to change, he was determined to find ways to do this, such as to build more residence halls and classrooms. His primary goal, however, was to build a more qualitative than quantitative Dillard. He sought to increase the school’s endowment from about $45 million to over $100 million, by the time of his then-undetermined departure. He successfully tripled giving from alumni, individuals, corporations, and foundations.

Lomax wanted no excuses of racial heritage as a reason for underdevelopment. He wanted Dillard’s students to be competitive; they should come well prepared but leave exceptionally trained. Lomax recruited a strong faculty to enhance an academic program already regarded as excellent. His leadership brought nearly a 44 percent increase in enrollment, reaching 2,225 students from across the nation, the Caribbean, and Africa. Increasingly, Dillard’s students were academically competitive as they came with strong high school grade point averages and high scores on standardized tests. From Dillard they went on to earn advanced degrees at some of the country’s best universities. By 2002, the U.S. News & World Report rated Dillard twentieth in the top tier of comprehensive colleges of the South.

Long Duration Continuous Media Retrieval [next] [back] Lomax, Louis E.(1922–1970) - Journalist, civil rights activist, Chronology

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