From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Nelson, William Stuart

(born: 1895  -  died: 1977) 

William S. Nelson was born in Paris, KY and grew up in Paducah, KY; his final home was in Washington, D.C. A 1920 graduate of Howard University and a 1924 divinity graduate of Yale University, he would become the first African American president of Shaw University (1931-1936) in North Carolina, saving the school from closing because of financial hardship during the Great Depression. Nelson was also the first African American president of Dillard University in New Orleans, LA, beginning in 1936.

Nelson wrote La Race Noire dans la Democratie Americaine, and Bases of World Understanding (Calcutta University Press, 1949). He worked with Mahatma Gandhi while in India on a special mission for the American Friends Service Committee from 1946-1958. A friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson joined him on the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL in 1965.

The William Stuart Nelson Scholarship Fund was established at Howard University, where he was the dean of the School of Religion and later vice president for special projects.

Nelson was the son of Emma Kersands Nelson and William Henry Nelson. He was married to Blanche Wright Nelson. He was an Army veteran of World War I.

For more see The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, by A. A. Dunnigan; Biography Index. A cumulative index to biographical material in books and magazines, vol. 11, Sept. 1976-Aug. 1979; "The Tradition of White Presidents at Black Colleges," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 16 (Summer 1997), pp. 93-99; J. R. Hailey, "William Nelson, dean at Howard, dies," The Washington Post, 3/30/1977, Metro section, p. C6; and William Stuart Nelson (1895-1977) at the Standford University Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute website.

 See a photograph of William S. Nelson, top left-hand column, on p. 39 in Golden jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky, edited by C. H. Parrish.

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“Nelson, William Stuart,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 24, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-07-03 17:14:19