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Alumni Profile: Carolyn Robertson Payton

Carolyn Robertson Payton. Courtesy Photo.
Carolyn Robertson Payton. Courtesy Photo.

In honor of Women’s History Month, Bennett College is highlighting one of its notable and influential alumna, Carolyn Robertson Payton. Payton, a 1945 graduate of Bennett College, made history when she became both the first African American and first female Director of the Peace Corps in 1977.

Bennett College is one of the black colleges supported by the Black College Fund which provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities.

As Director, Payton paved the way for Black women and people of color. She believed in diversifying Peace Corps volunteers and worked tirelessly to bring young people on board, aiming to attract more Black and Hispanic volunteers.

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Payton was also the first psychologist to take on the role of Peace Corps Director. After graduating from Bennett College with a degree in home economics, Payton earned her Master of Science degree in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and her doctorate in counseling and school administration from Columbia University Teachers College.

Born in Norfolk, VA in 1925, Payton’s passion for education was established early in life. Her grandfather, born into slavery, ensured all his children attended college, including Payton’s father. Gender or race would not stop Payton from furthering her education.

“Bennett Belles are global citizens with a passion for leadership, activism, and impacting their communities and the world. Director Payton carried that passion and persistence with her throughout her life and career, including when she became Director of the Peace Corps,” said Bennett College President Suzanne Walsh. “We continue that legacy of breaking down barriers, wherever they exist, through our work on behalf of gender equity and inclusion.”

Bennett College website, Greensboro, NC

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

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