James E. Cheek, who served as Howard University’s president for 20 years oversaw major expansions at the University, has passed away at the age of 77.

Ron Harris who is the University spokesman says Cheek died this past Friday at a hospital in Greensboro, N.C. Cheek died after a being ill for a long period of time.

Cheek was Howard’s president from 1968 to 1989. During that time period, he was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

Sidney Ribeau who is the current Howard University President issued a statement saying Cheek’s vision and passion for the historically black college led to bold progress and increased federal support for the school.

Before moving to Washington, Cheek served as president of Shaw University. He was named to that position at the age of 30.

Cheek is survived by his wife, Celestine, two children and four grandchildren.

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