Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) Vision & Passion Remembering a Legend ~ Dean Millie Charles

LaVerne Toombs

New Orleans, Louisiana – November 27, 2020 – Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) family is saddened to learn of the passing of Millie M. Charles, Founding Dean of the School of Social Work.

Interim Chancellor Dr. James H. Ammons, Jr., said, “While I did not have the pleasure of knowing her, Dean Charles’ accomplishments as a social work educator, civil rights advocate and in social justice will endure in the practice of social work for generations to come. As a member of the ‘SUNO Village,’ which she helped to establish, I take pride in knowing when one visits our campus, her legacy is prominent throughout the state-of-the-art Millie M. Charles School of Social Work building on the Lake Campus. I pledge to remain committed to her legacy by ensuring that we continue to graduate a significant number of Baccalaureate and Master of Social Work students in the State of Louisiana.”

Dean Charles, affectionately known as “Mama Millie,” established the School of Social Work in 1985. Prior to establishing the school’s programming, she was hired at SUNO in 1965 to begin a Child Welfare Certificate Program while working as the only faculty member. When Dean Charles retired in 2006, the School of Social Work staff peaked at 30, with 27 full-time faculty members. Dean Charles believed in “advocacy, empowerment and transformation,” which serves as the cornerstone and theme of the School of Social Work. She further believed that those in power should advocate for those who could not speak for themselves. As an advocate for the less fortunate, her goal was to empower individuals to find the courage to speak for themselves eventually, and, once able to, their transformation began.

In a 2012 interview, Dean Charles stated, “You need to be true to a cause that extends beyond yourself.” An alumna of Dillard University, the history of Millie M. Charles reflects a life committed to civil rights, child advocacy, and social justice as she became a nationally respected social work educator. In the late 1960s, she successfully advocated for the establishment of a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Currently, there are over 500 Baccalaureate Programs in the United States.

According to Harry J. Doughty, a veteran social worker and tenured assistant professor who was hired by Dean Charles, “Millie devoted her life to making the world a better place especially for children. I was fortunate to have known and worked with Dean Charles for over fifty years as she helped me to become a better person and social worker. While she was demanding of her faculty and students, she had a contagious laugh with a sense of humor. I will always cherish our relationship.”

As a pioneer social worker, Dean Charles was often recognized not only by her contemporaries, but also organizations supportive of social justice and civil rights. Some of Dean Charles’ accolades include Times Picayune “Loving Cup Award” in 2013; Millie M. Charles School of Social Work Endowed Chair; National Association of Social Workers Pioneer; Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Dillard University; Founders’ Award, National Association of Black Social Workers, New Orleans Chapter; National Association of Social Workers’ Social Worker of the Year; Humanitarian of the Year Federal Women Employees Association; Hannah G. Solomon Award, National Council of Jewish Women; and, she was one of four Women honored by the New Orleans YMCA for A Lifetime of Community Service; Social Worker of the Year; Humanitarian of the Year Federal Women Employees Association.

Dean Charles is survived by her daughter, H. M. K. Amen, and a host of relatives and friends. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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