COLUMBIA — Blue skies, an autumn breeze and abundant pride were the backdrops this morning as a slew of MU faculty, staff, students and community members gathered outside MU’s General Classroom Building to honor Professor Emeritus Arvarh E. Strickland.
Many of the attendees know Strickland, including Richard S. Kirkendall, who hired Strickland in 1969 as the first African-American professor at MU. Kirkendall flew out from Seattle to attend the ceremony renaming the GCB after Strickland.
“I guess he wanted to see what he had wrought,” Strickland said.
Jim Bryan, senior pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church, opened the ceremony with a prayer. He said the occasion was more than an opportunity to recognize a pioneer and a historian; it was a way to honor ideals.
Before Strickland began working for the university, he often visited members of the community, recalled Eliot Battle, who was introduced to Strickland shortly after he arrived in Columbia.
“I’m proud to say that I know Arvarh Strickland,” he said. “I’m prouder to say that Arvarh Strickland is my friend. There is no man that I respect more than Arvarh Strickland, and whose respect means more.”
The initiative to rename the building grew from the Legion of Black Collegians, which pointed out in 2005 the need for a building on campus to be named after a prominent black leader. Jabari Turner, a member of the LBC, took to the lectern and immediately asked all black professors of the university to stand as attendees broke into applause.
“This centrally located building will be honoring Mizzou history, not just Mizzou’s black history, but Mizzou history,” he said.
Two speakers knew Strickland as a professor when they were students in MU’s graduate program.
“To be honest, Strickland was a very hard taskmaster, and, in fact, I was a little scared to go under his wing,” said Antonio Holland, who worked under Strickland for his Ph.D. “He was very thorough, but I came to appreciate it very much.”
Strickland smiled at his former students’ comments before stepping to the lectern. He recognized a childhood friend and family members and thanked the Legion of Black Collegians. He said it was a group he “had a love affair with” and insisted that credit for the occasion be shared with the organization.
“Oftentimes I would visit the offices and tell them they can’t spend all their time making the world a better place,” Strickland said. “You have to go to class.”
A plaque honoring Strickland will hang inside the building, which has been renamed Arvarh E. Strickland Hall. A sign outside the building was unveiled at the ceremony.
Strickland choked back tears as he shared credit for the renaming with other black leaders who “came and had the door closed in their face.
“This is an honor to all of those black people who are a part of this university’s history,” Strickland said.