Joyce Ladner was a Professor of Sociology, Provost, and Interim President at Howard University. When she became Interim President of Howard University in 1994, she brought the University through a significant budget ($25M) shortfall, which was a period of austerity that involved layoffs of staff and a freeze on spending, yet for Ladner, was a matter of saving the University. By the end of that year, she was successful in closing the budget gap. Following her time as Interim President, Ladner was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the District of Columbia Financial Control Board for a three-year term, to balance the city’s budget after it became bankrupt. Ladner was also a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
As a sociologist, Ladner studied and interpreted the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in her book, Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman that was the forerunner of the field of Black Girlhood Studies, and is a canon in the field. Her second book, The Death of White Sociology, was a landmark work that challenged the value neutrality of mainstream sociology. Her other books include Mixed Families: Adopting Across Racial Boundaries, The Ties that Bind: Timeless Values for African American Families and Launching Our Black Children for Success: A Guide for Parents of Kids from Three to Eighteen. She studied the roles of Tanzanian women in nation building and has lived in Dakar, Senegal. The poet Robert Pinsky also mentioned Ladner and her mentor, holocaust survivor Ernst Borinski, in his poem titled “Poem of Names” (The New Yorker, 2019).
A native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Ladner began her fight for social justice as a teenager when she helped organize an NAACP Youth Chapter in her hometown. She was expelled from Jackson State College in 1961 for organizing a civil rights protest.
Ladner was on the front line of most of the major civil rights protests in the sixties including Greenwood, Birmingham, Albany, Georgia, Selma, and Jackson. As a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she was mentored by civil rights pioneers Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker. She worked with slain civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer, and two of the three civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
Ladner was on the twelve-person staff that organized the March on Washington in 1963 under the direction of Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph in Harlem, ands he was on the stage when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, DC. She is completing her memoir titled Standing in the Gap: A Memoir of Resistance, Rebirth and Redemption that captures the spirit of her 1960s generation of young civil rights workers who challenged segregation and discrimination in the South and changed the face of America.
Ladner earned a BA from Tougaloo College in 1964 and a PhD from Washington University, St. Louis in 1968.