On Monday, the United Negro College Fund announced that Milton Jones. Jr, a businessman and civic leader in Atlanta, had been named chairman of the UNCF board. It would have been an interesting, though not that remarkable, bit of news—except that UNCF pointed out in the first line of the press release announcing it, that Jones is the first African American to chair the organization’s board.
Previous chairmen, according to the organization, include William F. Stasior, Sr., John D. Rockefeller, III, Michael H. Jordan and Jack Stahl—all white men.
The revelation that Jones’ election is a milestone, in an organization founded to advance opportunities for African Americans, engendered surprise, shock and even some suspicion across the internet.
“Who was uniting the negroes, if not the negroes at the board?” comedian @KevOnStage asked in a hilarious reaction video to the announcement that earned tens of thousands of views on Monday. “Why has it been white men up until this point? How is this first negro at the united negroes?”
Similar reactions appear to have prompted the organization to delete a tweet it had posted pointing out Jones’ groundbreaking election as chairman of the board.
To be clear, UNCF—which is the nation’s foremost philanthropic organization funding scholarships for students to attend HBCUs—has had several Black presidents since its founding more than 75 years ago by Frederick D. Patterson and Mary McLeod Bethune. Black men who’ve held the top staff post at UNCF over the years include William H. Gray and the late civil rights icon Vernon Jordan.
The organization’s current president and CEO, Dr. Michael Lomax, is also an African American. He expressed excitement at Jones’ election to chair the board.
“Milton brings a wealth of business knowledge and a thoughtful and collaborative leadership approach that will help us thrive and continue to drive UNCF’s and our HBCUs’ impact and growth,” said Lomax, who has known and worked with Jones for decades.
Jones is undoubtedly qualified to lead the governance and oversight of the organization. He has been a member of the UNCF board since 2005, was chair of the board’s finance committee and is a founding member of Peachtree Providence Partners Holding Company, LLC, a private investment firm in Atlanta.
The Root reached out to the UNCF requesting additional context to explain why he is the first Black person to hold the position. We will update if we do get a statement.