Oldest alumnus, 103, had stellar career
Cheyney University’s oldest living alumnus died on Monday, Nov. 5 of a stroke. James R. Dumpson, Ph.D., a 1932 Cheyney graduate, was 103 years old.
“He was the oldest of my grandparents’ six children and the family looked up to him as the child who went to college, graduated, and accomplished so much in his life,” said nephew Jeff Hart, who graduated from Cheyney 50 years after his uncle did.
Dumpson made history over the years as a public servant, educator, administrator, social activist, advocate, humanitarian and scholar.
He started his career as a caseworker for the Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare, and later became the first Black welfare commissioner in the nation’s history when New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner appointed him in 1959. He served the nation’s largest city for more than 60 years, directly reporting to six different mayors. His influence on public policy development for the health and human services has been felt across many policy domains at local, national and international levels.
In 1953, Dumpson served as a United Nations adviser/chief of training in social welfare to Pakistan. Ten years later, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the Commission on Narcotics and Drug Abuse – the only African American named. Dumpson was an adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, serving on various advisory commissions. In 1976 he was named dean of Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Work, becoming the first Black dean of a non-Black school of social work. Fordham later named an endowed academic chair for him.
Dumpson received many honors, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from Cheyney, the New York City Black Agency Executive, and the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Dumpson was a past president of the Cheyney University National Alumni Association. Just last month during the university's 175th anniversary gala, he was honored with a Living Legend Award.
“I express the condolences of the entire Cheyney University family on the passing of a most valued friend and international embodiment of Cheyney University,” said Michelle R. Howard-Vital, president of Cheyney.
National Alumni Association President Junious Stanton said Dumpson “was the quintessential Cheyney graduate. He was a true trailblazer who exemplified the Cheyney spirit. Dumpson had a thirst for knowledge; he thrived and excelled as a public servant and left a lasting legacy for us to emulate. He represented his beloved Cheyney extremely well throughout his long life and career. He never forgot where he came from. I’m so pleased the National Alumni Association recognized him at our recent 175th anniversary gala while he was still alive.”