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What’s in a Name? At UMD, a Hurtful History of Segregation

December 9, 2015

Byrd Stadium at University of Maryland

 

Amidst a flurry of protests across the country – from the University of Pennsylvania to Princeton University and the University of Kentucky – by students calling for the renaming of campus buildings and programs due to racial concerns, the president of the University of Maryland has recommended that the University’s football stadium be renamed. It was research by a Drexel professor that helped to inform that decision.

UMD President Wallace Loh announced to students on Monday his proposal that the stadium, currently named for prominent alumnus and former college leader Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, be renamed Maryland Stadium, as “Byrd’s segregationist legacy does not align with the University’s mission.”

The recommendation came after a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni formed this fall to consider the name and created a report that highlighted Byrd’s role in the development of the University, summarizing some of the most important issues relevant to reassessing his history and legacy, particularly in relationship to the question of integration.

Amy Slaton, PhD, a professor in the Department of History of Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, was excited to find that the report draws on her historical study, "Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line"(Harvard University Press, 2010).

Through historical case studies, the book pursues the question of, “what do we make of an occupational pattern that perpetually follows the lines of race?” Focusing on engineering programs in three settings—in Maryland, Illinois and Texas, from the 1940s through the 1990s—the book examines efforts to expand black opportunities in engineering as well as obstacles to those reforms.

“I wrote about Byrd in the book because he represented a very telling moment in U.S. race relations to me,” said Slaton. “One in which many Americans wanted to end segregation and were pushing hard for a complete integration in public higher education, but in which many others, primarily but not exclusively in the South, were resisting that change.”

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