Central State’s Bernice Sumlin, Former AKA International President and HBCU Advocate, Dies

Bernice I. Sumlin, a Central State University graduate who made a mark on HBCU culture through her leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. in the 1970s, died last week in Dayton, OH. She was 91.

Sumlin was part of the inaugural graduating class from Central State following its separation from Wilberforce University into two separate institutions. A life-long educator, administrator and civil rights advocate, the Dayton native was installed as the 19th international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1974, leading the organization to record philanthropic support of historically black colleges.

During her tenure, the sorority donated more than $500,000 to the United Negro College Fund, helping to spur the launch of its Parade of Stars annual telethon in 1979. The telethon raised more than $156 million over 19 years in its original telethon format.

Sumlin also oversaw donations for capital improvements and contributions at Howard University, including the installation of the Founders’ Window at Rankin Chapel, and the sorority’s archival holdings at the Moreland Spingarn Research Library.

Sumlin was honored in November with the placement of historical markers on the Wilberforce and Central State campuses, and the establishment of an endowed scholarship at WU.

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