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A historian makes history

Arvarh Strickland gets another first: a building named for him

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  • Story by Chris Blose
  • Photos by Rob Hill
  • Published: Oct. 19, 2007
Arvarh Strickland

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Above, hear Arvarh Strickland talk about his experiences at Mizzou and in Columbia. A transcript is available.

When Arvarh E. Strickland started teaching at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1969, his classes generated so much interest they were overbooked. Thirty-eight years later, he still draws a crowd.

The University community gathered on Oct. 19, 2007, to officially rename the General Classroom Building (GCB) as Arvarh E. Strickland Hall. Strickland became the first African-American faculty member at Mizzou in 1969. Now the professor emeritus of history becomes the first African-American to have an academic building on campus named for him. (Hear Strickland talk about his experiences at right.)

As testimony to Strickland’s influence, the tent set up for the ceremony couldn’t hold everyone who came. His wife, Willie, and other family members were there for the honor. Childhood friends from Mississippi made the trip. Richard Kirkendall, who hired Strickland at Mizzou, came all the way from Seattle. Faculty, staff, students, administrators and community members showed up in droves.

That’s because not only was Strickland the first, but as Chancellor Brady Deaton noted, Strickland also brought in other professors and students who have changed the University’s history.

Eliot Battle, a community leader and longtime friend, pointed out that Strickland was the first of many firsts. Now, for example, the University of Missouri System has had its first black president in Elson Floyd, and athletics has its first black head coach in Mike Anderson. “Arvarh Strickland opened all of these doors and many more,” Battle said.

Jabari Turner, representing the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC), said that Strickland's tremendous influence was the key reason the organization chose him for the naming honor. The LBC first pushed for the naming, and then the Residence Halls Association and the Missouri Students Association joined in to help make it happen.

Jabari Turner and Arvarh Strickland

Jabari Turner, left, of the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC) congratulates Arvarh Strickland. The LBC was instrumental in pushing for Mizzou to name a building in Strickland's honor. 

Turner said that the groups chose GCB for the new Strickland Hall because of the building’s central location on campus. Wilma King, who holds the professorship endowed in Strickland’s honor, added that thousands upon thousands of students will take classes in Strickland Hall. For Strickland’s part, he says he taught classes on every floor of that building.

Strickland, a force at the podium, displayed his gratitude to the LBC and described his long love affair with that organization. The LBC was founded in 1968, the year before he came to campus, and he credits its members for great changes at the University over the years. He said that sometimes he had to straighten out their priorities, though: “You can’t spend all your time making the world a better place. You have to go to class.”

Strickland also echoed the sentiments of others, noting that this honor (one among many) holds meaning well beyond personal glory.

“This is not about me … This is a tribute to all the black people who are part of the history of the University of Missouri,” he said.

Read more in:  Arts & CultureSpecial Features & SeriesEducationOn Campus

Reader feedback

  • When will recognition be paid to the first female black faculty member at MU? She arrived about a year after Strickland. Her name was Araminta Smith, and she was a faculty member in the School of Social Work. Also, from what I understand, the first black extension faculty member was Mable Grimes, who arrived around that same time and is still in Human Environmental Sciences.

    Of course, it is wonderful to see Dr. Strickland honored in this way and to see MU continue to make strides in acknowledging its African-American leaders.

  • After more digging by the fine folks at MU Extension, it seems Mable Grimes likely was the first African-American state-level extension faculty member on campus. She came here in 1965 and reached that level in 1969. But others came before her as specialists around the state, just as African-American instructors taught at Mizzou before Arvarh Strickland came as the first full faculty member.

    Records indicate that the first black extension specialist was Ella S. Stackhouse, who worked from Feb. 10, 1944, through July 31, 1970. She began in the Bootheel as a home demonstration agent.

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Last updated: June 6, 2013