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Julia Purnell

The 16th International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. (1962 – 1966) Julia Brogdon Purnell was born on March 19, 1916 in Belton, South Carolina. Purnell and her two sisters, Sadie Brogdon Blackwell and the late Christine Brogdon Gilchrist (both AKA Sorority members), were born to the Reverend and Mrs. Richard E. Brogdon Purnell. Under Purnell’s leadership, the AKA Sorority, Inc. opened its first National Program Office in Washington, D.C. Purnell’s administration also secured a $4 million contract to operate the first federal Job Corps Center for women.

Purnell completed her B.A. degree with honors with a major in psychology and a minor in education at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina and went on to receive her M.A. degree in educational psychology from Atlanta University in 1942. Afterwards, she pursued advanced work at several other universities and earned her specialist teaching certificate in reading from Colorado State College of Education. Since then, Purnell has been the recipient of eight honorary degrees.

Purnell’s lifelong service to the AKA Sorority began with her initiation into the Beta Zeta Omega Chapter in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She fulfilled many leadership roles in her home chapter, including Chapter President, Vice President, Parliamentarian, advisor to the Undergraduate chapter and Recording Secretary. She also served as the South Eastern Regional Director.

Purnell was elected as the 16th International President of the Sorority in 1962 at the Sorority’s national convention in Detroit, Michigan, succeeding Marjorie H. Parker in office. One of her first challenges as president was the implementation of the recommended changes outlined by the Sorority’s Study Commission Report. The result was the creation of new manuals and handbooks that continue to influence the Sorority’s structure and operation. Other highlights of Purnell’s term included obtaining a multi-million dollar contract for the establishment of a Residential Job Corps Center for Women in Cleveland, Ohio. She played a significant role in the effort for civil rights as a participant at the invitation of President Kennedy in the “White House Conference of Three Hundred Women,” and in 1964, she mustered national support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Under Purnell’s leadership, a program office was set-up in Washington, D.C.; the second chapter of the Sorority was established outside of the United States in Nassau, Bahamas, and in 1965, she convened the first Undergraduate Leadership School held in Zion, Illinois.

Purnell is a well-respected professor, having spent more than two decades at Southern University in Baton Rouge before her retirement in 1986.

Purnell has long been dedicated to community service and launched, with her late sister Christine, a Service Center at Bethel A.M.E. Church. As a member of the AKA Sorority and the Links, Inc., she holds the distinction of being the only African American female to have been president of both organizations. She is also a life member of the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP. She has further served her community through the Baton Rouge YWCA, Women in Politics, the League of Women Voters, The Blundon Home for Orphans, the local Girl Scouts’ Executive Board and the Steering Committee of the Status of Women in Louisiana.

Purnell is the widow of Clifton A. Purnell, Sr., long-time athletic director at Capitol Senior High School in Baton Rouge, she has one son, Clifton, Jr. and two grandchildren. She continues to live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she has been honored by several local and national organizations including the Women’s Greater Council of Baton Rouge.

Purnell was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 28, 2008 as part of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Centennial Boulé 2008 celebration. Segments of these interviews were used in a DVD entitled A.K.A. Sorority: A Legacy of Supreme Service.

Accession Number

A2008.066

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/28/2008

Last Name

Purnell

Maker Category
Schools

Howard High School

Allen University

University of Michigan

Clark Atlanta University

Waverly Elementary School

First Name

Julia

Birth City, State, Country

Belton

HM ID

PUR03

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

Alpha Kappa Alpha

State

South Carolina

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/19/1916

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Baton Rouge

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Death Date

10/21/2013

Short Description

Association chief executive and education professor Julia Purnell (1916 - 2013 ) was the sixteen president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Purnell was also the president of The Links, Inc., and served as a Southern University professor for two decades.

Employment

Southern University

Morris College

Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College of South Carolina

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Black

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Julia Purnell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Julia Purnell recalls becoming the supreme basileus of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Julia Purnell talks about her leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Julia Purnell talks about her leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Julia Purnell describes the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Julia Purnell describes the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Julia Purnell lists her favorites

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Julia Purnell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Julia Purnell describes her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Julia Purnell describes her father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Julia Purnell talks about her father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Julia Purnell describes her parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Julia Purnell lists her sisters

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Julia Purnell describes her home life

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Julia Purnell describes racial discrimination in South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Julia Purnell remembers her early education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Julia Purnell remembers her elementary school education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Julia Purnell describes lessons from her father

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Julia Purnell remembers Howard High School in Georgetown, South Carolina, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Julia Purnell remembers Howard High School in Georgetown, South Carolina, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Julia Purnell describes Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Julia Purnell remembers early forms of entertainment

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Julia Purnell recalls experiencing color discrimination in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Julia Purnell talks about color discrimination within the black community

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Julia Purnell remembers pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Julia Purnell remembers Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Julia Purnell remembers W.E.B. Du Bois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Julia Purnell talks about her Ph.D. dissertation

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Julia Purnell recalls the start of her career at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Julia Purnell reflects upon her teaching career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Julia Purnell remembers her experiences in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Julia Purnell describes her presidency of The Links, Incorporated

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Julia Purnell talks about her husband

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Julia Purnell describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Julia Purnell reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Julia Purnell talks about her family

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Julia Purnell narrates her photographs