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University of Missouri Honors Its First Black Professor


Arvarh Strickland came to the University of Missouri nearly four decades ago to teach history.

On Friday, the school’s first black professor made some history of his own when a prominent campus building was renamed in his honor.

More than 100 former students, colleagues, friends and well-wishers turned out for the unveiling of Arvarh E. Strickland Hall, formerly known as the General Classroom Building. The building is in the heart of campus next to the Brady Commons student center.

One speaker after the next described a tough but caring teacher who held his students to the same exacting standards that helped Strickland leap from his rural Mississippi roots to a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He joined the University of Missouri-Columbia faculty in 1969 and quickly became a mentor, community fixture, civic leader and adviser to several chancellors.

Richard Kirkendall, the history department chairman who lured Strickland from Chicago State College, compared his former colleague to baseball’s Jackie Robinson, another trailblazer whose success was molded by his ability to shatter the limits others had put in his way.

“Not only was he enormously talented, but he had the strength of character to do the job,” Kirkendall said.

Strickland, 77, retired a decade ago but remains an active scholar and community leader in Columbia.

In his own remarks, Strickland paid tribute to those who came before him, including Lloyd Gaines, the Lincoln University graduate and University of Missouri law school hopeful who in 1939 successfully challenged the university’s whites-only admissions policy; and Lucille Bluford, a Gaines contemporary who fought to take graduate journalism courses at the University of Missouri.

“This is not about me. This is a tribute to Lloyd Gaines, to Lucille Bluford, to all of those folks who came, and to some who had tried and had the door shut in their face, and others who got into this institution,” Strickland said, his voice wavering with emotion.

“To all of the black people who were part of the history of the University of Missouri. Thank you for honoring them.”

Eliot Battle, a Columbia activist, said his longtime friend made it possible for Missouri in recent years to hire a black men’s basketball coach (Mike Anderson) and a black university system president (Elson Floyd) without a second thought as to the color of their skin.

“Arvarh Strickland opened those doors and many, many more,” Battle said.

But discussion of Strickland’s influence shouldn’t just be limited to black history, said University of Missouri-Columbia student Jabari Turner, who helped lead the effort for the building name change.

“This is not just Mizzou black history, but Mizzou history,” he said.

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