By: Caitlyn Freeman, Editor-in-Chief
Towson University paid tribute to its black alumni during Saturday’s dedication ceremonies for the National Panhellenic Council Tribute Walkway and Hall of Fame Residences to honor the university’s first black graduates, Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris.
The ceremony, held in the courtyard between Barnes Hall and Towson Run Apartments, coincided with the homecoming celebration and saw around 325 people in attendance, mostly TU alumni and members of women’s family.
The University announced the decision to rename the residence halls, originally named after Maryland slave owners Charles Carroll and William Paca, after the 1959 graduates in June.
At the inauguration, Harris thanked the university and said she wished her parents were alive to witness the moment.
“I never imagined this would happen to me,” Harris said.
Echoing Harris, Barnes said the dedication was an honor.
“It’s been great,” she said in an interview.
Both women came to college in 1955, a year after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in 1954, which ruled separate schools unconstitutional. At the time, the university, then the State Teachers College in Towson, was an all-white institution.
Women then pursued careers in education.
At the ceremony, Schatzel said that women’s decision to attend university despite the lack of diversity had a lasting impact on herself and on the black TU students who followed in their footsteps.
“They didn’t ask,” Schatzel said. “They didn’t volunteer. Little did they know they would create historic change. They were just brave.
Chris Barnes, son of Mavis, spoke on behalf of his mother at the ceremony. Echoing Schatzel, he said his mother’s humility for his accomplishment was widespread, especially after he decided to attend the all-white school in the summer of 1955, the same summer as Emmett Till’s murder. .
Till, a 14-year-old black man from Chicago, was lynched in Mississippi by two white men after he was wrongly accused of making flirtatious comments to a white woman.
“Brown vs. Board of Education was 1954, Emmett Till was 1955,” Chris Barnes said. “It was the same fall in the climate in our country where these two women decided they were going to leave […] and they want to incorporate what we knew was an all-white institution.
While the university has struggled to fit in in the years following the Brown ruling, 59% of students in the incoming class of fall 2022 identify as a racial or ethnic minority.
Gloria Scott, a 1962 TU graduate, said she lived in Richmond Hall with Harris. She said she was surprised that the university was on the right track to becoming a majority-minority institution.
Scott said the renaming of the buildings was “wonderful”.
Students began demanding the buildings be renamed in 2016, The Towerlight reported. In 2020, President Kim Schatzel established a committee to review names in accordance with TU policy on naming facilities.
In August 2021, the residences were stripped of their names and temporarily referred to as West Village 1 and 2 until the announcement in June.
In addition to buildings, Barnes-Harris Scholarship, established in 1993 by members Granting Opportunity for Learning and Development Associates, provides funds for new freshmen who need financial assistance. Monica Taylor, president of GOLD Associates, said that this year more than $100,000 was raised for the endowment.
Saturday also saw the dedication of a new walkway in Chapman Quadrangle honoring the TU chapters of the nine historically black fraternities and sororities within the National Panhellenic Council.
The event was attended by nearly 600 alumni and current members of TU Greek Life, many of whom wore Greek insignia. The walkway honors each chapter with a brick monument and plaque indicating the founding members of each chapter.
The organizations, known collectively as Divine Nine, raised funds on $100,000 of 581 donors for the gateway. The walkway was built by black-owned construction companies, University Advancement vice president Brian DeFilippis told the crowd.
As a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Patricia Bradley, vice president of TU’s Office of Institutional and Academic Equity, said the gateway represents the university’s commitment to giving students a sense of belonging.
“I can only imagine what life must have been like for Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris and the original founders of the NPHC organizations who represent us on this campus today,” Bradley told attendees. “The students who didn’t have the protection and the safe place for their sororities and fraternities. I can only imagine.”
The walkway, located next to the Media Center, also houses a bust of Julius Chapman, TU’s first Dean of Minority Affairs. Chapman, who attended the signings on Saturday, joined the university in 1969.
Chapman, a mentor for the school’s black population, established the Black Cultural Center in 1970 and helped establish the Black Student Union. He said the university’s progress since his tenure left him speechless.
“I have to pinch myself once in a while,” Chapman said in an interview.
Representatives from all of the Divine Nine organizations helped Schatzel and Chapman cut the catwalk ribbon. Afterwards, with arms tied, Chapman and Schatzel walked the path together to the applause of the attendees.
Sean-Paul Gray, a member of the Iota Epsilon Chapter’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity and a member of the GOLD Associates, said the gateway solidifies TU’s dedication to the Divine Nine.
“By erecting these monuments, Towson showed his appreciation for the D-Nine culture,” Gray said during the ceremonies. “To all of its members, past and future students, and to the world, is an outward symbol of the university’s recognition that the D-Nine community has been a vital and valuable component of Towson and its growth. Finally, we had a permanent presence on our campus.