From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie, A Memoir

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“In the opening of Dr. Charlie Nelms’ new life memoir From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie, he writes that it was the cotton fields of Arkansas where he first learned how to dream.

‘My body was in the field, but my mind was never there,’ writes Nelms, recalling his experiences picking cotton in the 1950s and 60s. ‘I dreamed of a more equitable America where my parents and siblings (indeed all ‘Negroes’ as we were called back then) could enjoy a quality of life beyond anything they could imagine.’

Today, the nationally recognized leader in higher education keeps a jar of cotton on his desk to remind him of his dreams, sacrifice, hard work, love and the support of his parents.”

Read the full review from Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Reviews from thought leaders

Selected for “Recent Books of Interest to African American Scholars” by the Journal for Blacks in Higher Education


LomaxIn the tradition of Booker Washington and Benjamin Mays, Charlie Nelms tells his riveting story from share croppers’ son in rural Arkansas to university president. His memoir is a testament to the power of aspiration, character and education to overcome poverty and adversity. At a time when young people ask if college matters, Nelms’ testimony is proof that university education remains an engine of social mobility and personal transformation. ” 

 — Michael L. Lomax,
President & CEO, United Negro College Fund (UNCF)


OvertonI have called Charlie Nelms a friend for almost 40 years. In his memoir, the realities of his life take on the qualities of a good docudrama, providing the back story to the development of a remarkable educational leader. His is “the examined life,” filled with honesty, humor, and humility. While this is uniquely Charlie’s story, it is a story that will lift the hearts of many and inspire future generations of leaders.” 

 — Betty J. Overton,
Director, National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good


GasmanFar too often we meet leaders and forget their journeys to leadership. We forget the struggles, the stumbles, the surprises, and the enormous amount of hard work they put in, amidst twists and turns along the journey. Charlie Nelms has written an autobiography that is authentic, humble, and serves as an example for those leaders who will follow him. His voice, honesty, humor, and compassion shine through his life story.”  

— Dr. Marybeth Gasman,
Director, Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, author of Educating a Diverse Nation: Lessons from Minority-Serving Institutions

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Learn how Charlie wrote his memoir

Listen to Charlie’s interviews on “Bring It On!”

The Dean’s Corner

Read Charlie’s profile in BLOOM magazine

Charlie’s book launch with Indiana University President Michael McRobbie

Follow Charlie on Twitter