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Dolores R. Spikes

Esteemed college professor and mathematician Dolores Margaret Richard Spikes was born on August 24, 1936 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Margaret and Lawrence Richard. She received her elementary and high school education by attending Baton Rouge’s parochial and public school systems. Throughout her youth, Spikes’ parents strongly advocated the value of a college education and upon her enrollment at Southern University in 1954, her father volunteered for overtime hours at his job to help pay for her expenses. She went on to earn her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1957 from Southern University where she was initiated as a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and met her future husband, Hermon Spikes.

After graduating, Spikes moved to Urbana, Illinois and pursued her M.S. degree in mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While pursuing her master’s degree, Spikes gained a passion for teaching and decided that she would give back to her community by teaching at a historically black college. In 1958, she returned to Louisiana and accepted a teaching position at Mossville High School in Calcasien Parish. While serving in that capacity, Spikes helped to improve the school’s ratings by introducing independent study programs. Then, in 1961, she returned to her alma mater, Southern University, and served as an assistant professor of mathematics.

In 1971, Spikes made history by becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Louisiana State University. She went on to serve as the chancellor for Southern University-Baton Rouge and Southern University-New Orleans in the late 1980s. Spikes was the first female chancellor (and later, president) of a public university in the State of Louisiana. She was then appointed as a board member of Harvard University’s Institute of Educational Management in 1987, and in 1988, she made history once again when she was appointed as president of Southern University and the A&M College System, becoming the first woman in the United States to head a university system. Later, in 1996, Spikes became the president of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore where she served until 2001.

Spikes has received numerous awards and recognitions for her accomplishments in academia, including: the Thurgood Marshall Educational Achievement Award and Ebony Magazine’s “Most Influential Black Women in America.” She has also served on the board of advisors for historically black colleges and universities; the board of directors for Education Commission of the States; and the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities.

Spikes was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 27, 2008.

Spikes passed away on June 1, 2015.

Accession Number

A2008.065

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/27/2008

Last Name

Spikes

Maker Category
Middle Name

R.

Schools

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School

McKinley Senior High School

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Louisiana State University

First Name

Dolores

Birth City, State, Country

Baton Rouge

HM ID

SPI02

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere With Libraries

Favorite Quote

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Birth Date

8/24/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Baton Rouge

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

6/1/2015

Short Description

Math professor and university president Dolores R. Spikes (1936 - 2015 ) served as the president of the Southern University System, and was the first woman in the United States to head a university system. She also served as the president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from 1996 to 2001.

Employment

Southern University at Baton Rouge

Southern University at New Orleans

Southern University System

University of Maryland, Eastern Shore

Favorite Color

Sky Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dolores R. Spikes' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her family's surname

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her family's work in the construction industry

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her likeness to her father

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about the culture of South Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her Native American ancestry

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her paternal family's practice of voodoo, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her paternal family's practice of voodoo, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about the Creole language

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes remembers the impact of urban renewal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes remembers her childhood pastimes

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls the demolition of St. Francis Xavier High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls the demolition of St. Francis Xavier High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes remembers McKinley Senior High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her early social activities

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her paternal family's musical legacy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her time at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes remembers Southern University President Felton Grandison Clark

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about Louisiana's historically black colleges

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls Felton Grandison Clark's departure from Southern University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her activities at Southern University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her experiences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her living situation at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her decision to return to graduate school

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her experiences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her the subject of her dissertation

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her mathematical influences

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her ambition to become a mathematician

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her transition to higher education administration

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her vice chancellorship of Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her chancellorship of Southern University at New Orleans

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spike remembers becoming president of the Southern University System

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls her challenges at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her separation agreement with the Southern University System

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls negotiating a consent decree to integrate Louisiana's public universities, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls negotiating a consent decree to integrate Louisiana's public universities, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the engineering and physics programs at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about the funding of graduate programs at historically black universities

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the challenges facing higher education organizations

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes recalls being offered the presidency of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her presidency of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes remembers her decision to retire

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dolores R. Spikes describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dolores R. Spikes describes the Head Start program at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Dolores R. Spikes talks about her family

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Dolores R. Spikes reflects upon her career

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Dolores R. Spikes describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Dolores R. Spikes narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Dolores R. Spikes recalls her experiences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Dolores R. Spike remembers becoming president of the Southern University System
Transcript
First day I walked into one of my classes at LSU [Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana], I sat sort of in the middle where I could see the board well and I could hear well. There was nobody--I was the only African American in that room. Nobody sitting in front of me, nobody sitting right behind me, and nobody sitting directly on either side of me. I remember it was quite obvious that they weren't (laughter)--I mean it was so obvious. But it didn't bother me. I had made it known that look, I've got a Ford Foundation fellow [Ford Foundation fellowship] for three years. I'm gonna get a Ph.D. in three years. I don't have time to linger around. I'm, you know, my business is to study math.$$Now, now what year is this, and--$$This is 1968.$$Okay, now how long had there been black students at LSU at this point do you think? What--about maybe three years?$$Oh, there had been--no, there had black students since, oh, earlier than that. I imagine in the late '50s [1950s] 'cause my neighbor across the street who's deceased now was there for her master's [degree] in one of the vocational programs. But he was shot at and everything else.$$Okay, so it wasn't easy.$$No. No, no, no.$$But he, he was--but they were there before--$$Yes.$$--you. 'Cause you know like we hear, we, you know, many have seen this story, you know, pictures of George Wallace in the door, State of Alabama.$$Yeah, yeah. Oh--$$Other people trying to integrate the University of Georgia [Athens, Georgia], you know, [HistoryMaker] Charlayne Hunter-Gault.$$Yeah, yeah.$$Other, other--you know, real big struggles trying to--$$Um-hm.$$So there was a struggle here at LSU?$$Absolutely a struggle at LSU.$$Here in Baton Rouge [Louisiana], same city that Southern's [Southern University; Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College] in.$$Same city.$$And people were shot at and--$$Yes, indeed. They were shot at and discouraged and everything else. It took a strong, strong willed person to go through that. But I was the first one to--first African American to get a Ph.D. in mathematics from there. They didn't have anybody to get a degree in that area before. So I was an oddity in that respect I guess. So--but, but there were good people there too. I mean there were enough faculty members who were really nice, good people who weren't racist or anything, who helped me. Who told me, "Don't go to this instructor. You know, stay away from this person." And because you know, they knew that they would not treat me fairly. And, and that was good. And my major professors were, were excellent and they helped me out a lot. But when we had our first test in this class, a teacher'd given us back our papers and as I found out later, he was really one of the good guys. And everybody was trying to lean over to see what I had made on the test. (Laughter) Well it turned out that I had the highest score I believe than anybody in the class. And so the next time I went to class, I had people right--sitting right in front, right on each side and in the back. All of a sudden the stereotype had been broken down by one test score. And so black women can learn mathematics, you know. It's something that just occurred to them. So anyway they--from then on it was a matter of, you know they wanted me to come to functions they had. But the truth was I was limited in interacting with them because I was a homemaker too and I was a mother [to Rhonda Spikes Brown]. And I, and I really didn't have time to socialize. By the time I got through with my, my studies and all, there just wasn't any time left. And even then, I was hardly sleeping at night. Wasn't enough hours in the day. So when I, when it got around to--this was during the period in which I had told you that in '71 [1971] I was winding down on my dissertation and my father [Lawrence Granville Richard] passed away. And that really set me back a semester or so. But come the end of the summer, I had finished the dissertation completely. And all I had to do was to type it. So it was being typed during the fall semester. And I marched across that stage in December of 1971, and was awarded the doctor of philosophy in mathematics. But by that time it didn't mean as much to me anymore. I realized then that maybe I was doing this for my father who had missed out on something that was within his reach had he been given the opportunity. And so it was just another credential for me to go to work.$And, but then I came to a board meeting in Baton Rouge [Louisiana] in 1989, and little did I know that I would walk away from that meeting with an offer of presidency of Southern University [Southern University System]. Seemed like they fired the then-president [Joffre T. Whisenton] like on the spot. Asked him to leave right on the spot. He was a nice fellow, I liked him, he was good. I think what happened was that some of his close associates really undermined his work, which was unfortunate. And he, so he said, "Well Dolores [HistoryMaker Dolores R. Spikes], if anybody's going to take my place, I'd feel better if you took it." And so I, I felt better about entertaining the notion, but I told them I needed to go home and talk to my husband [Hermon Spikes] first. So I did. But as is the case usually with Southern University, there's some politics involved. Fellow named Buddy Roemer was the governor. Seems that Buddy holds the idea that he wanted to have Huel Perkins [HistoryMaker Huel D. Perkins] for president and that I could be chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus [Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana]. I said well, "Joe," that's the chairman of the board was Joe Charra [ph.]. I said, "Joe," when he called with that notion that night, I said, "now I'm, I'm not--I'm happy at New Orleans [Southern University at New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana]. I'm not asking for either one of these positions. But the problems are all here on the Baton Rouge campus, and the only way I'm gonna solve them--." You got money problems, the campus was in financial exigency, the faculty was on the verge of an explosion because the board had allowed at that time salary increases for the system officers. And you just don't do that if you've got financial exigency on any one of your campuses. And the third thing was that there was an inspector general who was finding all sorts of wrongdoing on the campus, with some people even being arrested. And two years from then there was a Southern Association [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] for accreditation visit coming up within in two years. I said, "Now with all of that going on, I'll take the Baton Rouge campus if you're gonna give me the same salary or more that you're gonna give Huel Perkins." "Well we can't do that Dolores. He's the president." I said, "Yeah, but I'm the work horse that you want and so I'm just telling you that, you know, I don't mind. Get anybody you want for the job. But that's it. So--and it's fine with me, you know, I really--if, if that's the way the governor and you all want," I said, "I'm, I'm fine at New Orleans. We're doing fine there." Getting fat with these people bringing me big cinnamon rolls and po' boys every day (laughter), but, but we're getting along fine. So the next--I kind of figured, you know, that they were gonna go along with the governor. So the next morning they called me, the board called me back for an executive session. So they said, "We want to offer you the presidency of Southern University." I said, "Will you also delay appointment of a chancellor to the Baton Rouge campus because what you really want me to do is to clean up this mess on the Baton Rouge campus. And you can't put somebody in between my doing this and, you know, and getting the job done right." So they said, "You will be chancellor for a couple of years if you want to be as well." So I held both positions.$$Now this is 19--$$This is 1989--$$--eighty-nine [1989] (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) to 1991 in which I held both positions.