In Memoriam: Bertha Maxwell-Roddey, 1930-2024

Bertha Maxwell-Roddey, founding director of the Africana studies department at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, passed away on March 20 at the age of 93.

Dr. Maxwell-Roddey’s career in education began in Charlotte public schools. In 1968, she became one of the first Black women to serve as principal of a formerly all-White elementary school. In 1970, she joined the faculty of what is now the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, making her the second full-time African American faculty member with the university. One year later, she was named founding director of the Black studies program, currently known as the Africana studies department. She retired in 1986 as the Frank Porter Graham professor emeritus and went on to teach at the University of South Carolina Lancaster for 20 years.

Outside of her teaching appointments, Dr. Maxwell-Roddey founded and led multiple organizations dedicated to Black culture and advancement. In 1974, she co-founded what is now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture in Charlotte. She was also a co-founder of the National Council for Black Studies, establishing its first planning session on the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus in 1975. Additionally, she held numerous alumnae leadership positions with her historically Black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, including serving as the organization’s 20th national president.

Sonya Ramsey, professor of history at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, chronicled Dr. Maxwell-Roddey’s life in her book, Bertha Maxwell-Roddey: A Modern-Day Race Woman and the Power of Black Leadership (University Press of Florida, 2022).

“I describe Dr. Maxwell-Roddey as a modern-day race woman in my book because she represents the often-overlooked women in local communities who dedicated their entire professional and civic lives to Black progress,” said Dr. Ramsey. “Possessing a larger-than-life and charismatic personality, Maxwell-Roddey’s success involved her ability to know when to negotiate, when to confront, and when to leave. She also called her adversaries ‘in’ instead of calling them out. Even if she couldn’t sway them to her side, they respected her dedication to her cause.”

Dr. Maxwell-Roddey was a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was the first Black woman to graduate with a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she received her master of education degree. She earned her doctorate from Union Graduate School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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