First African American Assistant Dean of COE at JMU

College of Education

SUMMARY: Lillian Pegues Jennings was chosen as the Assistant Dean of Madison College's School of Education in April 1974.

First African American Assistant Dean of COE at JMU 

By Xixëllonjë Nebihu 


Throughout the late 1970s, as enrollment of African American students remained relatively low, James Madison University was committed to hiring more African American faculty and staff.  

In April 1974, Lillian Pegues Jennings was chosen as the Assistant Dean of Madison College's School of Education. Do you wonder who Dr. Jennings was?  

Let's take a closer look at her. Dr. Jennings was born on May 24th, 1926, in Youngstown, Ohio. After graduating from Youngstown State University with a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, she went to Edinboro University for a master's degree in Educational Psychology and then to the University of Pittsburgh for a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. 

Before coming to James Madison University, she served as the Director of the Office of Special Programs at Edinboro State College in Pennsylvania. After being named as the Assistant Dean of Madison College, Dr. Jennings began teaching as well, serving as a professor of psychology and education.  

Dr. Jennings was highly involved at JMU from the start. In 1975 she gave a speech titled "The Role of Women in 1975," in which she said, “Freedom entails making your own decisions and choices and being able to take the good with the bad consequences.” Her speech also addressed the civil rights of women: “Women must consider how far they want to go, how much change they want to make, and how much change can be accommodated at this point.” In 1978 Dr. Jennings was the highest-paid woman at JMU! 

Dr. Jennings was a panelist at JMU's "Black Emphasis Week" in 1977, a week dedicated to commemorating the achievements of blacks in American society. Dr. Jennings was credited with helping the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority become the university's newest national sorority in 1978.  

Dr. Jennings was a member of the Harrisonburg School Board and a United Way trustee, as well as a lay preacher at the John Wesley United Methodist Church. 

After leaving JMU, Dr. Jennings moved to California and published four books, including Native Daughter and My Solitude. She died in December 2016 in North Las Vegas at the age of 90. 


Source: Sheldon Hall – Dr. Lillian Pegues Jennings, JMU Campus History Walking Tour ( 

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Published: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Last Updated: Monday, January 9, 2023

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