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University of Missouri

Transformative Teacher

Arvarh Strickland, MU’s first black professor, leaves a perpetual legacy.

Arvarh Strickland

In 1969, the Legion of Black Collegians lobbied to hire Arvarh E. Strickland as MU’s first black tenure-track professor. Photo from the November 1971 Missouri Alumnus.

Arvarh Strickland didn’t set out to become Mizzou’s first black tenure-track professor when he accepted a position in the history department in 1969. But he took on the role and became a catalyst for change. When Strickland died April 30 at age 82, he left a legacy on campus, from the most obvious — the 2007 renaming of the General Classroom Building as Arvarh E. Strickland Hall — to the most important — helping to increase black enrollment and transform MU’s culture.

Strickland is credited with creating a black studies minor, recruiting faculty and students from minority groups, and establishing MU as a training ground for doctoral students in African-American history.

“As far as the history department is concerned, that is his greatest legacy,” says Russ Zguta, department chair. “We see the fruits of that continuing.”

Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton, BA ’68, JD ’71, was a first-year law student and one of the founding members of the Legion of Black Collegians when the group petitioned the university to hire a black professor.

“He did a perfect job as the first African-American faculty member on this campus because of the character he brought to what he did,” Middleton says. “When you see us talking about diversity and inclusiveness and globalization, a lot of that can be traced to Arvarh’s quiet, distinguished advocacy for those kinds of social justice and human rights issues.”

When MU hired Middleton as its first black law professor in 1985, Strickland was his advocate.

“He was a great mentor to me,” Middleton says. “He had this way of calming your insecurities, encouraging you to be successful and modeling the way to interact with people.”

Throughout Strickland’s 26 years at MU, he received numerous honors. However, Strickland said he felt most at home while teaching.

“I could say that I am proud of being involved in creating the Black Studies program, but as a teacher, I feel a greater accomplishment in seeing students’ eyes light up with understanding something they didn’t before, or coming up with some kind of formula they didn’t think they were capable of,” Strickland said in the May–June 1985 issue of The Missouri Alumnus. “I feel good every time a student says to me, ‘I got something from having this class with you that has made me a better person.’ ”