Arvarh Strickland, Missouri University's first African-American professor, dies

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:21 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 1, 2013

UPDATE: This story has been revised to add information about Strickland’s early years and more detail about his time at MU.
COLUMBIA — Arvarh Strickland, the first black professor at MU and a longtime advocate for minority hiring in higher education, died Tuesday morning at age 82. His death was confirmed by Otto Steinhaus, former pastor at Missouri United Methodist Church.
Throughout his career, Strickland criticized the university for its reluctance to hire and promote more black professors.
“You have not availed yourself of the diversity and broadened perspective which black faculty members can bring” to these positions, he told an MU chancellor in 1978.
Strickland also advocated for aid to black students through his work on the Ethnic Minorities Committee.
“I hope we are about to make a leap,” he told the Missourian in 1978.
Arvarh Strickland, MU’s first African-American professor, is shown in a 1990 photograph.   ¦  MISSOURIAN FILE
From Mississippi to Missouri
Arvarh Strickland was born on July 6, 1930, in Hattiesburg, Miss. His father wasn’t involved in his life, and he was primarily raised by his mother and her parents.
Strickland graduated summa cum laude from the historically African-American Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss., in 1951.
He married Willie Elmore a couple weeks after graduation, excluding him from the draft for a few years. After teaching at a black high school in Hattiesburg, Strickland began attending the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign for his master’s degree in 1953.
Around this time, the draft board changed its mind due to increasing pressure from the Korean War. Strickland served two years, spending most of his time in Maryland.
After his service, he returned to the University of Illinois, where he received his doctorate in 1962.
Soon after, he began teaching at Chicago State University on the south side of Chicago. Strickland became an active member of his predominantly African-American community.
In 1969, MU hired Strickland to teach a few courses in black history, and he became the first African-American professor at the university.
After a couple years, Strickland was named the special assistant to Chancellor Herbert W. Schooling, for the recruitment of minority group instructors. The position was supposed to lead to an increase in the hiring of minorities at the university.
Strickland brought to the attention of the school and community the lack of minority educators within the university and the community.
In 1995, Strickland received the MU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Faculty Award. When he retired after 26 years with the university in January 1996, a meeting room in the Memorial Student Union was dedicated to him.
After retirement, Strickland co-authored a book, “The African-American Experience: An Historiographical and Bibliographical Guide,” with Robert Weems Jr.
The university established the Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professorship of African-American History and Culture in 1999.
Following a demand by the Legion of Black Collegians that Chancellor Brady Deaton name a campus building after a black leader, the General Classroom Building was renamed Strickland Hall in 2007.
“And so what I did was to stay here and try to fight to see that other African-Americans who came on the faculty and as staff would not have to refight those battles,” he said in a video before the dedication.
Visitation will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St. Services will take place at 11 a.m. Internment will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 Business Loop 70 W.
Bryan Richardson contributed to this story

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