August 1991

Stephen J. Wright, PhD

Educator

Stephen J. Wright, PhD

In the entry about his life in Who’s Who in America, Stephen J. Wright, PhD stated: ‘In my opinion success can be attributed mainly to hard work. While luck plays a part in almost everyone’s life, I deeply believe it plays favorites with those who are thorough and competent’. Self-preparedness was always an essential ingredient in the life of Dr. Stephen J. Wright. As a youngster he believed he should develop his mind to the fullest and be ready to meet and conquer challenges and opportunities. Born in Dillon, South Carolina, he spent most of his early years in North Carolina. In 1926, at the age of 15, he enrolled at Hampton Institute in Virginia. Hampton had been attended by many of his relatives, including his father, a physician, who died when Stephen Wright was five years old. He received his BS degree from Hampton in 1934, his MA from Howard University in 1939 and his Ph.D. from New York University in 1943. Such achievements were rare for Black Americans in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This exceptional training prepared Dr. Wright for faculty and administrative positions at Hampton University. He subsequently served as President of Bluefield State College, 1953-1957, and President of Fisk University, 1957-1966. Fisk was viewed as one of the most outstanding African-American universities in the United States during Stephen Wright’s tenure. Dr. Wright believed that historically Black colleges and universities must provide for their students the best possible education with the most competent faculty. He was President of the United Negro College Fund and Vice President of the College Entrance Examination Board. His self-preparedness and leadership ability resulted in his being an expert witness in cases involving equalization and desegregation, including those, which consolidated into the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. Dr. Wright served as a presidential appointee on two White House commissions. He was a member of the Board of Trustees at four universities, including the University of Richmond. Dr. Stephen J. Wright served with distinction as former chairman and member of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and as a member of the Governor’s Monitoring and Advisory Committee for Affirmative Action and the State Board for Community Colleges. Dr. Wright received at least twelve honorary degrees, developed an extensive list of publications, and was honored by professional recognition in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World. Numerous professional organizations recognized Dr. Wright’s professional excellence as teacher, mentor, advisor, dean, and college president. He received alumni awards from Hampton and Howard Universities. He was the founder of the American Association of Higher Education and served on the boards of the Kellogg Foundation, the American Council on Education, the Education Testing and Service, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the trustee boards of several colleges and universities. Dr. Wright served as an expert witness in seven cases involving the desegregation of education in the South and represented with dignity, integrity, and spirit the rights of those citizens all too often neglected by society and policymakers. Because of his national recognition as an outstanding educator, he officially represented the American education community in Africa, the Soviet Union, Italy, South America, and England. In addition, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Dr. Wright to serve as special ambassador to the inauguration of President William V.S. Tubman of Liberia. In memoriam to Dr. Stephen J. Wright, the 1997 General Assembly recognized his valuable contribution to higher education in Virginia and the nation by establishing the Stephen J. Wright Scholars Program. Dr. Wright’s writings on education issues and foreign affairs appeared in journals such as the Harvard Educational Review, Journal of Negro Education, Saturday Review, Journal of Higher Education and Journal of Educational Psychology. For his educational knowledge and positive enhancement of humanity, he received many honorary degrees. This eminent educator helped to eradicate many legal, racial, and educational barriers for African-Americans. Thus, he provided freedom for all of us. Early in life he equipped himself with the tools of knowledge that were essential for his life’s work. Dr. Wright passed away on April 16, 1996.