This Day in Black History: Jan. 2, 1970

Clifton R. Wharton Jr. became the first African-American president of a predominantly white university.

Posted: 01/02/2013 08:30 AM EST
Clifton R. Wharton Jr.

(Photo: Courtesy of Michigan State)

On Jan. 2, 1970, Clifton R. Wharton Jr. took office as the president of Michigan State University, which made him the first African-American to head a predominantly white institution of higher education in the 20th century. It was just one of many firsts, however, for the Boston, Massachusetts, native who was born on Sept. 13, 1926.

Wharton, who entered Harvard at age 16, was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, the first to head a Fortune 500 company, TIAAA-CREF, one of the world's largest pension funds, and he was the first to lead the State University of New York System. Wharton also served as deputy secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, and was the first African-American to hold the number two post at the agency.

"Whenever I've been in a pioneering position, I've tried as hard as I could to do a good job, because I didn't want anyone to have the opportunity to say they put a black person in a certain position and he didn't succeed as expected," he told The New York Times.

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