The first two Black students to graduate from Towson University will be recognized for their role in trailblazing history. Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris will each have residence halls named after them at the Maryland school.
Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris earned bachelor’s degrees from what was at the time known as State Teachers College in 1959. The university’s Board of Regents approved naming residence halls after the alumnae on Friday.
The decision came days before the university in Baltimore County recognized Juneteenth as a day of reflection on Monday.
The two Black women integrated the college three months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus, according to the university. They both worked as teachers before serving in administrative roles in schools.
West Village 1 will become Harris Hall, and West Village 2 will become Barnes Hall.
“It really came as a surprise and really made my day,” Harris told the university after learning of the naming. “I never dreamed something like this would happen.”
“It’s a legacy moment,” Barnes’ son, Christopher said in a news release. “This is an immense honor. We really do appreciate the efforts of Towson University.”
The change was a request from the university’s president Kim Schatzel and is supported by a Naming Committee made up of staff, students and alumni.
“Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris paved the way for the thousands of students that follow in their footsteps still today,” Schatzel said in a message to campus Friday. “They continued to transform their communities through decades of service as teachers and administrators in Maryland’s public schools, further establishing their legacies as inspirational civic leaders in our region and state.”
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The school was founded in 1866 and was segregated up until the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools in the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, in 1954. Barnes and Harris graduated nearly a century after the university’s founding.
“That didn’t just ‘happen’; it happened because young women like Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris had the enormous courage to integrate our institutions and clear a path for the millions more students coming behind them,” USM Chancellor Jay Perman said in a news release.
Also in the name of preserving the women’s legacy, the Barnes-Harris Scholarship was started over 20 years ago. It awards a minimum of $500 a year to incoming freshmen from metropolitan high schools who have financial needs. The alumnae wanted the scholarship to go to a freshman who possessed “a strong allegiance and has been influence by the African-American culture.”
An official dedication for the buildings is being planned for the fall.