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The Race Relations Reporter


Charles Hamilton Houston quote

  News & Views

Buildings Named for Blacks at High-Ranking Colleges and Universities

Tokenism continues to rule much of academic race relations in the United States. Colleges and universities often deflect criticism of their records in enrolling black students or in hiring black faculty through a heavy concentration of awards of honorary degrees to African Americans.

Sometimes, to pacify liberals and manage race relations, college buildings are named for blacks, often in far greater numbers than the percentage of the black population would suggest.

On page 85 of this issue of JBHE we present our annual listing of honorary degrees bestowed on African Americans by the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities. Honorary degrees for African Americans are a fairly recent phenomenon. The great black writers and public intellectuals of the past such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, E. Franklin Frazier, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain LeRoy Locke, Ida B. Wells, Carter G. Woodson, and Richard Wright never received honorary degrees during their lifetimes. Honorary degrees to blacks began to become commonplace in the late 1960s when inner-city riots were front-page news. In many cases the honorary degrees given to African Americans in these years were viewed by the granting institutions and their alumni as a cheap form of affirmative action or, if you will, a kind of tokenism made to pacify black students who were complaining that the colleges they were attending were supporting racism here and abroad.

More recently, honorary awards for African Americans have taken a new turn. Now, many of the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities are naming an unexpectedly large number of buildings or campus facilities after African Americans. Often the honoree is a famous black figure from history such as Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, or Malcolm X. But in some cases, early black alumni at a particular college or university receive the honor of having their names attached to a building on campus. Typically, too, the building named after an African American on these campuses houses the black cultural center or similar facility.

JBHE recently surveyed the nation's 30 highest-ranked universities and 25 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges to determine which of these institutions had buildings on their campuses named after black people. For the institutions that responded to our survey, we found 18 buildings named after blacks on the campuses of the nation's highest-ranked universities and 10 buildings named after blacks on the campuses of the 25 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges. It is not surprising that more buildings named after blacks are found at the large research universities than at the small liberal arts colleges. The research universities have much larger campuses and a far greater number of structures.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has more buildings named after blacks than any other high-ranking college or university. Five buildings on the Chapel Hill campus are named after blacks, all of whom have some connection to the university. There are four buildings named after blacks at the University of California at Los Angeles and three at the University of California at Berkeley. Among the liberal arts colleges no institution identified more than one building named after a black person.

Following is a listing of the buildings named after blacks on the campuses of the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities.

Harvard University: The Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center is named after the late CEO of TLC Beatrice Holdings, Inc. He gave $3 million to Harvard Law School in 1992. Lewis was a 1968 graduate of the law school.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The McNair Building houses the Center for Space Research, a division of the aeronautics and astronautics department at the university. The building is named after Ronald McNair, an MIT graduate who was killed in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

Princeton University: The Carl Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding honors a former Princeton dean. In 1968 Fields became the first black assistant dean in the Ivy League. Fields died in 1998 and the building was dedicated in 2002.

University of California at Berkeley: There are three buildings on the Berkeley campus named after African Americans. The Ida Louise Jackson Graduate House is a graduate student residence hall. Jackson graduated from high school in Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the age of 12. She then enrolled at Berkeley earning a bachelor's degree in 1922 and a master's degree in education in 1924. For most of her professional career, she was a teacher in the Oakland public school system.

Barbara Christian Hall is an undergraduate residence named after the long-time black studies professor at Berkeley who died in 2000. The building was dedicated in Christian's name this past September.

The student union at the University of California at Berkeley is named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

University of California at Los Angeles: Four buildings on the UCLA campus have been named to honor blacks. The Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center was dedicated in 1997 to honor the UCLA graduate and tennis champion.

Bradley International Hall opened in 1997. The building honors former Los Angeles Mayor Thomas Bradley, who graduated from UCLA in 1941.

Bunche Hall is dedicated to Ralph J. Bunche, the diplomat who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his efforts to end the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. Bunche was a 1927 graduate of UCLA.

Lu Valle Commons was dedicated in 1985. It honors James Ellis Lu Valle, a graduate of UCLA who won a bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Later in life Lu Valle conducted research for Eastman Kodak and was the director of research at the Stanford University chemistry laboratories.

University of Michigan: The William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center is named after the editor of the black newspaper The Guardian. Trotter was also one of the founding members of the NAACP.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: There are five buildings on the Chapel Hill campus named after African Americans, all of whom were once associated with the university. Blyden and Roberta Jackson Hall houses the office of undergraduate admissions at the university. Dedicated in 1992, the hall honors a married couple who were both faculty members. Blyden Jackson was a professor of English and his wife Roberta was a faculty member at the School of Education.

The Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building is the home of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina. John Turner, one of the three individuals for which the building was named, was a former dean of the school.

The Kenon Cheek/Rebecca Davis Building is the headquarters for the university's department of housekeeping services. These two former housekeeping employees from the first half of the twentieth century promoted better working conditions for black staffers during that period.

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black History and Culture was dedicated in 2004. It honors the former chair of the African and Afro-American studies program at the university.

The William J. Hubbard Grounds Facility is currently in the planning stages. Hubbard, who was a member of the groundskeeping staff in the early twentieth century, was known on campus as "the tree surgeon."

University of Virginia: The Luther P. Jackson House is the home of the office of African-American affairs at the university. Luther P. Jackson was a member of the faculty at Virginia State University for 30 years.

Vanderbilt University: The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center is named after the first black student to enroll at the university. Johnson was admitted in 1953 and earned his bachelor's degree and doctorate of divinity from Vanderbilt.

Buildings Named for Blacks at Liberal Arts Colleges

Our survey found nine buildings named after blacks at the nation's 25 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges. No college has more than one building named after a black person.

Amherst College: The Charles Drew Memorial Cultural House is named after the 1926 alumnus who went on to discover the procedure for preserving human blood. Drew, who taught at Howard University, died in an automobile accident in North Carolina in 1950.

Bates College: The Benjamin Mays Center honors the 1920 Bates alumnus who went on to become president of Morehouse College, the historically black college for black men in Atlanta. Mays is often referred to as the mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Bowdoin College: The John Brown Russwurm African-American Center honors the 1826 graduate of the college and the founder of the nation's first black newspaper.

Middlebury College: Twilight Hall is named after Alexander Lucius Twilight. He is generally believed to be the first African American to ever earn a college degree. He graduated from Middlebury in 1823 and went on to become a Vermont state legislator.

Mount Holyoke College: The Betty Shabazz Cultural Center is named after the political activist and widow of Malcolm X. The building formerly was named after Martha Rolston Perkins, a nineteenth-century black graduate of Mount Holyoke.

Oberlin College: Langston Hall is named after John Mercer Langston, an 1849 graduate of the college. Unable to gain admittance to law school because of his race, Langston studied on his own for the bar. In 1868 Langston moved to Washington where he founded the Howard University School of Law, serving as its first dean. In 1890 he was elected to Congress from Virginia and served as a diplomat in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He also served as president of the institution that is now Virginia State University. Langston, who was the great-uncle of poet Langston Hughes, died of a stroke in 1897.

Smith College: The Mwangi Cultural Center at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts is named after a 1961 Smith alumna from Kenya. Florence Mwangi was the first woman to be licensed as a physician in Kenya. The Mwangi Cultural Center houses the office of the Black Students Alliance, the Asian Students Association, the Smith African and Caribbean Students Association, and the Latina Students Association.

Washington and Lee University: Chavis House is a residence hall named after John Chavis who was a student at the university in the eighteenth century. While there is evidence that Chavis completed his studies, records of degree recipients from the period were lost in a fire.

Wesleyan University: The Malcolm X House at Wesleyan is a theme dormitory. The house was established in 1969.

JBHE does not wish to leave the impression that naming campus facilities after blacks is more often than not a form of public relations designed to cover poor performance in racial integration. But in some instances management of race relations is an underlying motive.

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