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Black History

Scholars Mourned

The Vassar community lost two influential leaders in th “Africana Studies Program this month: Professor Emeritus Milfred Fierce, largely considered the “godfather” of Africana Studies (previously Black Studies) at Vassar and Professor Emeritus Norman Hodges, the first tenured Black professor in History and Africana Studies.

“Every Black alum mourns the deaths of Dr. Milfred C. Fierce and Dr. Norman E. Hodges,” said Gwen Salley ’81, Co-Chair of the African American Alumnae/i of Vassar College (AAAVC). “They were two of Vassar’s finest, most brilliant and most caring professors. Their legacy of excellence lives on in every student they touched.”
Professor Fierce was the first director of Vassar’s Urban Center for Black Studies established in 1969—one of the first such programs in the country. His advocacy was central to Vassar creating a major in Black Studies long before other peer schools did so. Critical to Professor Fierce’s vision for education in Black Studies was its location in the heart of the Black community in the City of Poughkeepsie. Under Professor Fierce’s direction, the Black Studies program at Vassar became a model for subsequent programs across the country.

Fierce was supportive of Vassar students’ role in the Civil Rights and the National Black Student movements and was a guiding force in the transformative Main Building takeover in 1969, which led to Black Studies becoming a major and the integration of Black Studies into the Vassar curriculum. (He reflected upon the takeover during a visit to campus for the 50th anniversary celebration of Africana Studies, in 2019.)
Professor Hodges taught courses in African American, African, and Caribbean history from the inception of the Africana Studies Program (which he directed twice), in 1969 until his retirement in 1998. He left an indelible mark on Vassar, its students, and the community. He was tireless in his advocacy and support for Black students and the full integration of Africana Studies into the curriculum.
Excerpted from Vassar memorial.

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