Emile T. Holley, 72, a retired college professor of English and Journalism, died Saturday at his home in Washington after a long illness.

His last position had been at Miner Teachers College, now part of D.C. Teachers College, where he was an assistant professor from 1932 until retiring in 1949.

In later years, he had served as a lay teacher at Dunbar High School and tutored students at George Washington and Georgetown Universities.

Born in Aiken, S.C., Mr. Holley grew up in New York CIty, where he graduated from the Townsend Harris college preparatory school.

He then entered Middlebury College in Vermont and became its first black graduate in 1925. He graduated cum laude with honors in philosophy and English and was elected to phi Beta Kappa. He went on to earn his master's degree there a year later.

Mr. Holley taught English and philosophy at Morehouse College and Wilberforce University before joining the faculty of Howard University in 1928, remaining there for four years.

He was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

HE is survived by his wife, Elizabeth M. Holley of the home; a son, Emile T. Jr., and his mother, Marie H. Thomas, both of Hartford, Conn., and four grandchildren.