NAACP Supporter & Philanthropist John Kluge Passes at Age 95

Longtime friend of NAACP named “Richest Man in America” by Forbes in 1987; donated more than $500 million to Columbia University

The NAACP is saddened by the passing of John Kluge, billionaire entrepreneur, television mogul and philanthropist. Kluge died on September 7 at the age of 95.

Born in Germany, Kluge immigrated to the United States in 1922. A Columbia University graduate, he made his foray into media by purchasing stock in the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation in the mid-1950s. He joined the company as its board chairman and largest stockholder in 1958, and in 1986, Kluge sold the Metromedia television stations to the 20th Century Fox film studio for a reported $4 billion. The following year, Forbes Magazine named Kluge the richest man in America. 

Kluge went on to exercise his wealth as a philanthropist, and his commitment to the NAACP was well-known. He donated a $100,000 gift to the NAACP for its 75th Anniversary. Kluge and the late NAACP Executive Director Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks became friends while Dr. Hooks was at the Federal Communications Commission. The Kluge and the Hooks families developed a close relationship. 

In 1984, Kluge was named Chairman of the NAACP’s Corporate Campaign, where he encouraged corporations to increase their contributions to the NAACP and significantly expanded the Campaign. Kluge’s former wife Patricia was also a generous supporter of the NAACP and served on the Board of Directors from 1984 to 1987. 

A generous philanthropist, the biggest beneficiary of Kluge’s patronage was Columbia University, where he gave more than $110 million between 1987 and 1993. In 2007, it was announced the University would receive a $400 million pledge from Kluge upon his death. The donation marks the fourth largest gift to an institution of higher learning in America, all designated for financial aid largely for minority students, and marks the largest pledge ever devoted exclusively to student aid to any single institution of higher education in the United States.

In an effort to attract and encourage young scholars of color, Kluge endowed a fund in his name to the university. “If it hadn’t been for Columbia, my path would have been entirely different in life,” said Kluge in 2004. “Columbia gave me an opportunity, and the only way you can really repay that opportunity is for you to help someone else.” 

Kluge was deeply committed to diversifying the ranks of academia. Among the recipients of the John Kluge Scholarship was NAACP President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. 

“John Kluge was a great American, a great believer in universal human dignity and potential,” said Jealous. “His rise from modest means taught him that often the investments with the greatest upside were those made in people whose lives began on the wrong side of the tracks.”

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