President David Burks announced Feb. 1 that the University will honor and celebrate Bro. Elijah Anthony and Dr. Howard Wright, the first African American undergraduate students to earn bachelor’s degrees from Harding, by naming the Administration building in their honor.
During the years Anthony and Wright attended Harding, the Administration building was the center of campus activity, holding various school events, presentations and chapel. Today, the building remains a prominent fixture on the campus quad housing several administrative offices and a 973-seat auditorium.
“Elijah Anthony and Howard Wright are deserving of this honor,” said President Burks. “I know both men and am grateful for their faithful leadership. I’m so glad future students will always be able to refer to this iconic building as the Anthony and Wright Administration Building.”
In front of the Administration building, a bronze three-dimensional plaque will bear the images of Anthony and Wright and tell their inspiring story. Nearby, additional plaques will stand — one honoring the first three African American students who enrolled as undergraduates at the University: Lewis Brown, Walter Cunningham and David Johnson. The other will honor the first two African American students to be awarded graduate degrees from the University: Thelma Smith (’65) and Curtis Sykes (’65).
A dedication ceremony that honors these esteemed alumni and celebrates all African American members of the Harding family will take place during Homecoming weekend in October. Brown, Johnson and Cunningham, who did not graduate from the University, will be awarded honorary degrees during the ceremony, Johnson’s and Cunningham’s posthumously.
“The fact that my time spent at Harding gave no indication that I would ever be honored in this way is a testimony to the growth and progress of Harding University,” said Anthony. “I am humbled beyond expression that God has chosen my experiences at Harding and beyond to influence the lives of untold numbers of young people for generations to come. To God be the glory!”
Anthony was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1946 and enrolled at Harding in 1966. Wright was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1945 and enrolled at Harding in 1965. In May of 1968 both graduated from Harding with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Anthony and Wright have both been named distinguished alumni recipients.
“When we stepped onto the Harding campus, we stepped into history,” said Wright. “When we graduated from Harding, we stepped into history. We didn’t come to Harding to make history. Claudine and I had more faith in God than fear of uncertainty, hatred or racism. Since walking across that administration auditorium stage, God has blessed me for 5 1/2 decades to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s all about a life of service.”
On Feb. 8 President Burks announced that the University also will remember and honor the life of Botham Jean by placing a bronze monument bearing his image in front of the American Heritage Building. Jean, a 2016 alumnus from St. Lucia, was murdered Sept. 6, 2018, at his home in Dallas. Further, the Botham Jean Inspiration Award has been created to be given each year at Homecoming to a member of the Harding community for demonstrating exceptional faith and perseverance and serving as a role model for all.
“Botham was a unique and influential leader on our campus,” said President Burks. “I loved his smile, the way he led singing in chapel and at church, and his enthusiasm for life. We are looking forward to a dedication ceremony honoring his life that will be held on or around his 30th birthday in September 2021.”
In addition to the Inspiration Award, two scholarships were established in 2019 and are given annually in memory of Jean. The Botham Jean Memorial, created by Jean’s parents Bertrum and Allison Jean, is given to students who have lived in the Caribbean. A second scholarship established by the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration, in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Jean’s employer, is given to historically underrepresented populations as they pursue degrees within the Harding College of Business.
These announcements were made following a proposal in October by the University Task Force on Recognizing African American Achievement at the University and approved by the board of trustees. The task force, chaired by women’s soccer coach Dr. Greg Harris, was formed in June 2020 and is made up of Black and white members of the board of trustees, faculty, administration, students and alumni. The goal of the task force was to identify the most meaningful and appropriate ways in which the University can memorialize and celebrate the history and presence of African American students and alumni at Harding.
“This announcement is a result of many hours of conversation, collaboration and hard work by our task force members as well as other Harding stakeholders,” said Harris. “It is also the outcome of the University’s willingness and intentional vision to move forward along this path of celebrating the entire heritage of our Harding family.”