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Baltimore County

Towson University residence halls to be renamed for university’s first Black graduates

Two residence halls at Towson University will be renamed after the school’s first Black graduates — Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted Friday in support of a request by Kim Schatzel, Towson University president, to rename residence halls West Village 1 and West Village 2 after the university’s first Black students, who graduated from the university in 1959 after segregation was outlawed five years prior.

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West Village 1 and West Village 2 were previously named Paca House and Carroll Hall after William Paca and Charles Carroll, both elected officials and Declaration of Independence signers who enslaved hundreds of people. The university removed the dormitory names in 2021 after years of pressure from students and approval from the board of regents to rename school buildings.

Towson University, originally named Maryland Normal School when it was founded in 1866, was racially segregated until the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education that segregation is unconstitutional.

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At the time, Towson was the state’s largest teachers’ college. Both Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris were aspiring teachers and were accepted to other historically Black colleges and universities. But they decided to enroll at Towson and its state teachers college and became the first Black students in their classes, according to the university. Harris graduated with a degree in elementary education, and Barnes graduated with a degree in secondary and middle school education.

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Both women became public school teachers.

“As the nation pauses to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, I can think of no better time to honor Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris, and reflect on our collective role in combating racial inequality and inequity,” Schatzel said in a statement. “I am so proud of our students, faculty, staff and countless members of the TU family for enacting this inspiring change for our community and honoring these two remarkable alumnae.”

Juneteenth is an Emancipation Day celebration that recognizes the end of slavery. The holiday, which started in Texas, became a federal holiday last year.

Members of the 10-person University Naming Committee recommended that the school replace the dormitories named after Paca and Carroll with alumni Barnes and Harris to honor their contributions as school trailblazers and celebrate their successful careers as educators and administrators. Harris became a principal at Harlem Park Elementary and Madison Square Elementary in Baltimore. She also earned a master’s degree from Columbia Unversity and took postgraduate classes at the Johns Hopkins University and what is now Loyola University Maryland, according to Towson University.

Barnes also earned a master’s degree from Loyola. She became a department chair at Northwestern Senior High School and an assistant to the principal.

A ceremony to honor the residence halls renamed Barnes and Harris halls is scheduled for the fall. For the past 20 years, Towson has also awarded freshman students with a minimum $500 yearly scholarship called the “Barnes-Harris Scholarship Endowment.”

“This is yet another important step forward in our institution-wide mission to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community,” Schatzel said in a statement. “As an anchor institution that reflects the diverse population of our great state, we must continue this momentum to ensure a more equitable future for the next generation of Tigers and Marylanders.”


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