Even as age and glaucoma made the last decade of his life difficult, Dr. Albert N. Whiting digested books and written articles about education and current events, asking family, friends and caregivers to read to him. He was especially intrigued by a young U.S. senator from Illinois named Barack H. Obama who would eventually become the 44th president of the United States.
“He had read up on Mr. Obama long before he became a leading presidential candidate,” recalled Dr. Brooke E. Whiting, Dr. Whiting’s daughter. “Daddy was backing him all the way.”
Dr. Whiting, former dean of what is currently Morgan State University and former president of what is currently North Carolina Central University, died June 4 at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia of aspiration pneumonia. He was 30 days shy of his 103rd birthday.
Andre’ D. Vann, archives coordinator at North Carolina Central and a public history professor, said Dr. Whiting was instrumental in nurturing the historically Black college and university into what it is today.
“We are here today because he built the foundation in the 1980s,” Mr. Vann said. “He set the stage for the progress and development that this institution enjoys today. He is the last of what we would call the old-line Black college presidents and chancellors, and he left a wonderful legacy behind.”
The eldest of two children born to and raised by Hezekiah Oliver Whiting, who cleaned and sold fish at the Fulton Fish Market in New York City, and the former Hilda Freida Lyons, who worked as a nurse, Dr. Whiting grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and became popular with his peers.
“He lived in a neighborhood that was a combination of Italians and the Polish, and he was one of the few Blacks in the neighborhood,” his daughter said from her home in Washington, D.C. “He got along with everybody. At that time, there was a lot of prejudice against immigrants and Blacks. So they kind of ended up getting along together.”
Dr. Whiting graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Amherst College in 1938 and a master’s degree in sociology from Fisk University in 1941. From 1941 to 1943, he taught sociology at Bennett College before joining the U.S. Army in 1943. He was discharged in 1946 as a first lieutenant and company commander.
Dr. Whiting returned to Bennett to resume teaching sociology until 1948, when he taught the same subject at Atlanta University before the school consolidated with Clark College to become what is now known as Clark Atlanta University.
While visiting a friend in Danville, Virginia, in 1948, Dr. Whiting was introduced to Lottie Luck, who cooked a dish of creamed sweet potatoes with a marshmallow top served in an orange peel.
“My father got there and he kind of looked at her and said, ‘Wow.’ Then he ate her dish and said, ‘Double wow,’ ” his daughter recalled of her parents, who married June 10, 1950, in Danville and remained married until her mother’s death in 2004. “She went home and told her family, ‘I just met the man that I’m going to marry.’ And he was saying the same thing to himself. So it was kind of love at first sight.”
After earning a doctorate in sociology and public welfare from American University in 1952, Dr. Whiting taught one more year at Atlanta University before moving to Morris Brown College, where he taught sociology and served as the dean of faculty until 1957.
Dr. Whiting then began a 10-year tenure at Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), first as an assistant dean from 1957 to 1959 and then as dean from 1959 to 1967.
Dr. Whiting began a 16-year tenure as the fourth president of North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) in 1967. Under his leadership, the institution added its fifth school in 1972, the School of Business, erected 12 new buildings, created a university endowment and an Academic Skills Center, and established a collaborative effort with the flagship universities in Michigan and Wisconsin to help North Carolina Central faculty earn doctorates.
“He wanted to raise the standards,” said Mr. Vann, the university’s archivist. “There were many who challenged his views and ideas student-wise and faculty-wise because some didn’t understand his vision. He had what you would call a long view. He didn’t believe that the institution of North Carolina Central University was going to be just the best Black school in Durham, North Carolina, and in the state of North Carolina. He looked beyond from 1967, and he had a vision for that.”
Mr. Vann said Dr. Whiting fought long odds and preconceived notions to help nurture the university.
“He was an intellectual,” Mr. Vann said. “He had no problem whatsoever with going to the administration of the UNC system and the state legislature and explaining what the needs were. And every time, they gave him what he needed.”
“He was really pleased with being able to make the university grow and serve the community,” his daughter said.
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Dr. Whiting said she understood at an early age that she was expected to attend college. But when she wanted to apply to what she described as “radical” schools that offered a non-traditional curriculum, her father objected.
“He didn’t let me do that,” said Dr. Whiting, who attended and graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. “He told me that I needed to get a good education with a proven track record.”
After retiring from North Carolina Central in 1983, Dr. Whiting returned to Maryland and lived in Columbia. He was a member of the board of directors of the University of Maryland’s Hospital System, Maryland’s Board of Regents and the Maryland Higher Education Commission before formally retiring in 1998.
“He said that when he turned in the keys at North Carolina Central University, he just felt so empty, and he wanted to be able to continue to contribute,” his daughter said. “So he was always active up until the day before he passed. He was always curious and always really sharp mentally and always asking questions.”
Dr. Whiting was cremated. A memorial service is being planned.