In Memoriam: Doris Wilkinson, 1936-2024

Doris Y. Wilkinson, the first Black woman to serve in a full-time faculty position at the University of Kentucky, passed away on June 22. She was 88 years old.

Dr. Wilkinson began her professional career at the University of Kentucky in 1967. She left her position to teach at Macalester College in Minnesota for 15 years, eventually returning to the University of Kentucky in 1985. During her second tenure with the university, she founded the first social club for Black women, the Forum for Black faculty, the Carter G. Woodson Lecture Series for untenured faculty, and the Black Women’s Conference. She also served as the founding director of the Black studies program, which she renamed to the African American studies and research program.

For her many contributions to the school, the University of Kentucky has honored Dr. Wilkinson with numerous awards and recognitions. In her name, the university has established the Doris Wilkinson Distinguished Professorship in Sociology and the Humanities, the Doris Y. Wilkinson Conference Room in Brekinridge Hall, and the Doris Y. Wilkinson Award for Leadership. She was inducted to the university’s alumni hall of fame in 1989 and received an honorary doctorate in 2019. Additionally, a collection of her papers can be found at the University of Kentucky Archives.

In addition to her work in higher education, Dr. Wilkinson held positions with various public service and professional organizations. In 1972, she was appointed to the Department of Interior Task Force on the National Parks System. Throughout her career, she had stints as vice president and president of the Eastern Sociological Society, president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and vice president of the American Sociological Association.

As a sociologist, Dr. Wilkinson studied critical race theory, health and illness, class, gender, social change, social movements, and occupations. She authored and edited numerous books including The Black Male in America: Perspectives on His Status in Contemporary Society (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1977).

Dr. Wilkinson attended Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky, and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1954. She then went on to join the first class of African American undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology. She held a master’s degree and doctorate in medical sociology from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, as well as a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

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