From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie, A Memoir

From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie, A Memoir


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Charlie Nelms had audaciously big dreams. Growing up black in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s, working in cotton fields, and living in poverty, Nelms dared to dream that he could do more with his life than work for white plantation owners sun-up to sun-down. Inspired by his parents, who first dared to dream that they could own their own land and have the right to vote, Nelms chose education as his weapon of choice for fighting racism and inequality.

With hard work, determination, and the critical assistance of mentors who counseled him along the way, he found his way from the cotton fields of Arkansas to university leadership roles. Becoming the youngest and the first African American chancellor of a predominately white institution in Indiana, he faced tectonic changes in higher education during those ensuing decades of globalization, growing economic disparity, and political divisiveness. From Cotton Fields to University Leadership is an uplifting story about the power of education, the impact of community and mentorship, and the importance of dreaming big.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253040169
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 03/29/2019
Series: Well House Books
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 477,495
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough is president of Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Kimbrough holds degrees from the University of Georgia, Miami University of Ohio, and Georgia State University. He has been recognized for his research on historically black colleges and universities, African American men in college, and fraternaties and sororities. In 2010 he was named as part of the Ebony Magazine Power 100 list and in 2013 he became one of NBC News/The's 100 African Americans making history today.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough



1. "I’ll Fly Away"

2. How I Got Over

3. Tacks and Splinters

4. College Bound

5. From Dairy-hand to Bookstore Clerk

6. Everything Before Us

7. Boot Camp

8. "If I Had a Hammer"

9. Holding Fast

10. This Spinning Top

11. Full Circle

What People are Saying About This

Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Far too often we meet leaders and forget their journeys to leadership. We forget the struggles, the stumbles, the surprises, and the enormous amount of hard work they put in, amidst twists and turns along the journey. Charlie Nelms has written an autobiography that is authentic, humble, and serves as an example for those leaders who will follow him. His voice, honesty, humor, and compassion shine through his life story.

Betty J. Overton

I have called Charlie Nelms a friend for almost 40 years. In his memoir, the realities of his life take on the qualities of a good docudrama, providing the back story to the development of a remarkable educational leader. His is "the examined life," filled with honesty, humor, and humility. While this is uniquely Charlie's story, it is a story that will lift the hearts of many and inspire future generations of leaders.

Michael L. Lomax

In the tradition of Booker Washington and Benjamin Mays, Charlie Nelms tells his riveting story from share croppers’ son in rural Arkansas to university president. His memoir is a testament to the power of aspiration, character and education to overcome poverty and adversity. At a time when young people ask if college matters, Nelms’ testimony is proof that university education remains an engine of social mobility and personal transformation.

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