Museum News

Statement on the Passing of Legendary Businessman and Presidential Candidate Herman Cain

July 31, 2020
Herman Cain Photo Courtesy of Win McNamee / Staff Getty Images

Spencer Crew, interim director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, released the following statement today, July 31, on the death of American businessman and Republican Presidential candidate and political commentator Herman Cain.

It is with great sadness that we at the National Museum of African American History and Culture mourn the passing of Herman Cain.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Herman Cain was raised in a modest household that as "poor but happy."  His humble upbringing led him to dream boldly. Cain always held on to his mother's words: success isn't about what you have materially, but what you have within you, spiritually, and thus Cain set out with a strong spirit and conviction that carried him far in his life. 

A Morehouse man through and through, Cain received a degree in mathematics in 1967. He would later go on to receive a master's degree in computer science from Purdue, which he earned while working full-time for the U.S. Department of the Navy. Cain went on to ascend to the top of some of the nation's most prominent enterprises. He worked for several years for The Coca-Cola Company then moved on to Pillsbury and Burger King before becoming the president and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, in 1986. 

At this point, Cain had firmly cemented his status as a keen and savvy economic mind. This led him to his work with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and his two-year tenure serving as its chairman. In 1996, Cain made his first foray into the world of politics, an endeavor that found him a part of several political campaigns and efforts, including a few of his own. Most notable in Cain's political career was his 2012 presidential campaign, where his entrepreneurial spirit and economic prowess once again brought him to be a leading figure in the Tea Party Movement and a serious contender for the Republican nomination. 

Politics came to be yet another field where Herman Cain made a name for himself. However, it was amid his political rise, in 2006, that Cain was diagnosed with colon cancer. Stage IV and already spread to his liver, the diagnosis came with a 30 percent chance of survival. Through surgery and chemotherapy, and a tenacious fighting spirit, Cain miraculously found himself in remission. This is another feat that characterizes the life of Herman Cain, survival against the odds. 

The story of Herman Cain's life is nothing less than a great success story. From the business world to the political arena, Cain consistently made himself a known and resounding voice, reaching heights and entering rooms typically closed off to Black Americans. Herman Cain's legacy undoubtedly includes a commitment to enterprise, to the republic, and to overcoming the odds in front of him, time and time again. Cain will be remembered for this legacy of resilience as well as for his example of achievement.


About the National Museum of African American History and Culture  
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000 square-foot museum is the nation's largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.

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Media Contact(s): 

Jermaine House   (202) 633-9495;
Jason Spear (202) 633-9904;

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.