Black Women of Amherst College

Executive-produced and hosted by Nichelle Carr ’98
Production-managed by Jason Gill ’97
Co-hosted by Tene Adero Howard ’01

“I credit Amherst enormously for framing how I look at issues of racial justice and sexism,” says Laura Jarrett ’07, “all of the things I care about deeply, and the things I end up covering on CNN every day.”

The news anchor is one of some 50 people—alumnae, faculty, staff and beyond—interviewed for the six-part podcast series Black Women of Amherst College, which the College commissioned as part of its Bicentennial celebration. This spring, the podcast won two Webby Awards, given by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. The first is for Best Limited Series; the second is the “people’s voice” award in the category of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

In the podcast, Nichelle Carr ’98 gives voice to the multidimensional and sometimes difficult stories of Black women at Amherst through interviews that share their firsthand accounts.

In addition to Jarrett, the podcast features such women as poet Sonia Sanchez, the second chair of the College’s Black studies department, who offers a poignant, personal account of the death of Gerald Penny ’77, for whom the College’s Black cultural center is named. The show also includes art historian and MacArthur Fellow Kellie Jones ’81, who recalls doing her WAMH radio shift when students staged protests in Converse Hall in 1979. As an act of solidarity, Jones stayed on air throughout the takeover, offering news as events unfolded.

“What the podcast gets across is that Black women are on the front line—on behalf of everyone,” says Carr. “Their courage and strength benefit us all.”

When Carr began the project, she found rich source material in the 1999 book Black Women of Amherst College, by history professor Mavis C. Campbell, who taught at Amherst from 1977 to 2006. Carr spoke to women from the book, such as Amherst trustee Kimberlyn Leary ’82, a psychology professor at 
Harvard Medical School. To complement the perspectives of alumnae, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, the Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of Black Studies and English, also appears on the podcast, as does former Associate Dean of Students Onawumi Jean Moss.

The podcast pans out to note Black women who have been awarded honorary Amherst degrees, too—like singer Nina Simone, in 1977, and Sanchez, in 2020—as well as those who influenced the College from the outside. One episode focuses on Anna Julia 
Cooper, born into slavery and educated in France at the Sorbonne. She became principal of Dunbar High in Washington, D.C., an all-Black public school that steered many trailblazing students to Amherst, including Charles Drew, class of 1915, who went on to discover the chemical method for preserving blood, and Charles Hamilton Houston, class of 1926, who became chief architect of the legal strategy that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education.

“We wanted to uncover the unknown, the unseen, the unheard stories of Black women,” says Carr of the project. “The work that they’ve done, and the impact that they’ve had, has helped Amherst College keep on the road to becoming the best version of itself.”

Whittemore is Amherst magazine’s senior editor.
Illustration by Eliana Rodgers