Leslie King-Hammond was born in the South Bronx and grew up in South Jamaica and Hollis-Queens, New York and was educated in the New York City public education system. She won a full stipend-tuition scholarship awarded under the SEEK Grant (Search for Education, Evaluation, and Knowledge) at the City University of New York, Queens College (BFA degree, 1966-69). In 1969, she attended The Johns Hopkins University under a Horizon Fellowship for doctoral studies in art history. In 1973, she began to teach art history courses at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). In 1976, she completed her Ph.D. and was appointed Dean of Graduate Studies at MICA where she administered 200 students in eleven degree programs. She maintains a teaching schedule in the art history department. In 2008, she retired to become Graduate Dean Emerita and was appointed the Founding Director of the new Center for Race and Culture at MICA. She received Mellon Grants for Faculty Research in 1988, 1989, and 2005. In 1985, she won the Trustee Award for Excellence in Teaching. As a member of the "Girls of Baltimore," she won an NEA artist grant in 2001. In the spring of 2006, King-Hammond was appointed Chairperson of the Collections and Exhibits Committee at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture and in January 2007 became the Chairperson of the Board of the Lewis Museum. She also sits on the Board of the Creative Alliance for the Artists, Baltimore, MD.
Between 1985 and 1998, King-Hammond became the project director for Ford/Phillip Morris Fellowships for Artists of Color at MICA (including Yale School of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and California Institute of the Arts). She sits on juries, boards, organizations, and art commissions including Executive Board, International Association of Art Critics (2000-2003); President, College Art Association (1996-2000); Board of Overseers, Baltimore School for the Arts (1996-1999); Vice President, Jacob Lawrence Catalog Riasonne Project; Trustee, Baltimore Museum of Art (1981-1987); Center For Emerging Artists (2005-2007); Advisory Board, Edna Manley School for the Visual Arts, Kingston, Jamaica (1988-Present).
Major exhibitions and publications include Celebrations: Myth and Ritual in African American Art (Studio Museum in Harlem, 1982); The Intuitive Eye (The Maryland Art Place, 1985); Art as a Verb (MICA, Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Met Life Gallery, 1988); Black Printmakers and the WPA (Lehman Gallery of Art, New York, 1989); Masters, Mentors, and Makers, Artscape '92 (MICA Decker Gallery, 1992); Gumbo Ya Ya; An Anthology of Contemporary African American Women Artists (Midmarch Arts Press, 1995); Three Generations of African American Women Sculptors: A Study in Paradox; Vice President and essayist for the Jacob Lawrence Catalog Riasonné Project, Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (University of Washington Press, 2000); Sugar and Spice: The Art of Bettye Saar (Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2003); Aminah Robinson: Aesthetic Realities/Artistic Vision in The Art of Aminah Robinson (Columbus Museum of Art, 2003); and Inner Being/Altered States: Painting the Life-Worlds of Beverly McIver's Realities in The Many Faces of Beverly McIver (40 Acres Gallery, 2004). Most recently was her book, Hughie Lee-Smith, (2010) Pomegranate Press. King-Hammond has won Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Studio Museum in Harlem (2002), Lifetime Service, MICA (2005), The DuBois Circle (2006), Women's Art Caucus-College Art Association (2008), and the James A. Porter Colloquium, Howard University (2008). In 2008, she was granted an Andy Warhol Curatorial Fellowship. The Detroit Institute of the Arts gave her the Alain Locke International Prize in 2010.