Julia Brogdon Purnell, an educator and civil rights activist, died Monday, Oct. 21.
She was 97.
Purnell, a longtime literature professor at Southern University who served as the leader of both Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and The Links Inc., died of natural causes in Lansing, Mich., her family said.
A charismatic orator and leader, Purnell is the only woman to have served as president of both AKA and The Links, African-American sororities that promote community service and education.
While serving as AKA’s international president, or “Supreme Basileus,” during the 1960s, Purnell made several trips to the White House to participate in discussions about human and women’s rights.
“She was an international treasure who will be sorely missed,” said Carolyn Stewart, AKA’s Supreme Basileus.
Purnell dedicated her life to community service, specifically educational opportunities for young African-American women, said Jacqueline Nash, a law professor at Southern University Law Center.
“You could see God’s reflection in her face,” Nash said. “She was funny. She was down to earth and she was a pistol. She would tell it like it is and didn’t cut corners.”
Nash described Purnell as a “fashion plate” who had her beloved hair stylist, Kathy Carter, fix her hair even while she was hospitalized after suffering a stroke earlier this year.
Rasheeda Garner, one of Purnell’s three grandchildren, described her grandmother as a “beautiful spirit” who encouraged her family members to always serve others.
“She was truly a blessing to all the people that she tried to help and to serve,” Garner said.
Purnell was preceded in death by her husband, Clifton A. Purnell Sr., who was a football coach at Southern University, and son Clifton Purnell Jr.
Sorority ceremonies for Julia Purnell will be held at Southern’s F.G. Clark Activity Center on Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.
A memorial service will follow at 11 a.m.