Arvarh Strickland

July 6, 1930 – Tuesday, April 30

Arvarh Strickland, the University of Missouri’s first tenured African-American professor, passed away Tuesday, April 30 at the age of 82.

“Arvarh Strickland was most well-known for the countless number of students he mentored over the years, both in their academic pursuits and in their personal challenges,” said Mike Middleton, deputy chancellor at MU. “Because of his contributions, MU’s history department is noted as one of the nation’s leaders for doctoral degrees granted to African-Americans.”

Strickland began his career at MU in 1969. Until he retired, Strickland, a nationally known historian, participated in curricular changes and directed undergraduate and graduate studies at MU, where he was largely responsible for increasing African-American enrollment and for transforming MU’s culture.

Strickland, whose classes were often overbooked due to a high interest from students, taught at MU for 26 years until his retirement in January 1996 when he became professor emeritus. He also served as interim director of the Black Studies Program on two separate occasions.

He completed his term as international president of Phi Alpha Theta, an honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history, in 1995 and his term as chair of the advisory board/nominating committee in 1997. Locally, in 1995, he completed his term on the University of Missouri Press Committee and as chair of the System’s Thomas Jefferson Award Committee.

In 1994, he received the University of Missouri’s Byler Distinguished Professor Award and the St. Louis American’s Educator of the Year Award. In 1995, he was awarded the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Faculty Award and was placed in the Tougaloo College Alumni Hall of Fame. In 1997, he received an Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and distinguished service awards from the State Historical Society of Missouri and Phi Alpha Theta Honor Society in History. In 1999, he received the Carter G. Woodson Medal from the Association for the Study of African-American History and Culture.

In 1998, the Missouri Endowed Chair and Professorship Program, established with the support of the state’s legislature, created the Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professorship in African-American History and Culture. The distinguished professorship recognizes Strickland, author of History of the Chicago Urban League and editor of Lorenzo J. Greene’s volumes Working with Carter G. Woodson, A Diary, 1930-1933. Currently, Wilma King is the Strickland Distinguished Professorship in African-American History and Culture.

In October of 2007, MU renamed the General Classroom Building as Arvarh E. Strickland Hall. The building became the first named after an African-American faculty member at MU.

Arvarh Strickland was born on July 6, 1930, in Hattiesburg, Miss. He graduated summa cum laude from the historically black Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss., in 1951.

He married Willie Elmore a couple weeks after graduation and the couple had two sons: Duane and Bruce.

After teaching at a black high school in Hattiesburg, Strickland began attending the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana for his master's degree in 1953. After serving in the military, 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. In 1969, MU hired Strickland to teach a few courses in black history, and he became the first African-American professor at the university. 

In addition to a classroom being named after him, Strickland also has a room named in his honor in the Memorial Student Union on MU’s campus.

“It can truly be said that Dr. Strickland’s presence on this campus has transformed the very culture of this institution,” Middleton said.

Strickland is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Willie; his sons Duane and Bruce and their families; a great-granddaughter, Pearl; and many friends and MU faculty members.

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