Dr. Viralene Johnson Coleman served as a pillar of educational excellence at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for 37 years, innovating new approaches to teaching literature and composition.
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Viralene Johnson was born on February 5, 1928 in Smackover, Arkansas, to James and Estella Johnson. Johnson was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class, which earned her a college scholarship to Arkansas AM&N College, now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). In 1950, she graduated from the university, earning her bachelor’s of science in English education.
In 1954, she and her husband, Elijah Coleman, moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Her husband became the principal at Townsend Park High School while she became an English teacher. Coleman even composed the school's alma mater, “Oh, We Cherish Townsend Park High.”
In 1959, she earned her master’s degree in English from University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In 1960, Coleman joined the AM&N faculty after her colleagues convinced her that she had the depth and education to teach college students. After a few years, she took a sabbatical to earn her Ph.D. In 1969, Coleman earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, making her the first Black person to earn a doctorate from the university.
Dr. Coleman returned to teach at AM&N College the following academic year. She later became Chairman of the English department, serving in that capacity until she retired. In her 37 years of service at the university, she received many accolades and was nationally recognized for her innovative approaches to teaching literature. She served as a reader and test developer for College Board and the Educational Testing Services. She was also a test reviewer for the National Endowment of the Humanities.
She was the recipient of numerous fellowships, including a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, a Rockefeller Grant, and several grants from the National Endowment of the Humanities. In 1984, she was named the Arkansas Humanist of the Year and received the Distinguished Faculty Award from the UAPB faculty. In 2003, UAPB honored her by establishing The Viralene Johnson Coleman Computerized Writing Center.
Along with her service in the educational sector, Dr. Coleman was a faithful member of the Faith Presbyterian Church. She served as an Elder, Sunday school teacher, choir member, and numerous other roles throughout the years. She also spent 60 years as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She is credited with organizing “Dialoguing with Deltas,” a workshop that addressed the cultural and social development of youth from kindergarten through college.
She died on September 20, 2020. She was 92 years old.
Williams, L. R., Robinson II, C. F. (2010). Remembrances in Black: Personal Perspectives of the African American Experience at the University of Arkansas, 1940s–2000s. United States: University of Arkansas Press.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard