A-State Dedicates ‘The Circle’

University officials unveiled a placard explaining “The Circle” during the dedication. The university named the apartment buildings for its first four black faculty. Photo by Kimberely Blackburn

by Kimberely Blackburn
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — Arkansas State University honored its pioneering black faculty Aug. 7 at the dedication of “The Circle,” a group of apartment buildings.

Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said such an honor sends a statement and begins many projects intended to make the campus a more welcoming place.

“We’ve come a long way in recognizing the important role that African-Americans play in our community, but we have a lot further to go,” he said.

A-State named the buildings — which will house A-State faculty, graduate students and New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine students — for the four men who taught at a time when many did not accept integration:

  • C. Calvin Smith, emeritus professor of history and A-State’s first black faculty member
  • Mossie Richmond, A-State interim president, vice president for student affairs and dean of University College
  • Herman Strickland Sr., emeritus associate professor of teacher education and dean of University College, and
  • Wilbert Gaines, emeritus associate professor of physical education.

Chancellor Kelly Damphousse presents Earline Smith with a crystal award in honor of her late husband C. Calvin Smith. Each family received an award. Photo by Kimberely Blackburn

Smith lived in campus housing after being unable to find someone in Jonesboro willing to rent to his family. As the other families arrived, they became neighbors and formed “The Circle.”

Rick Stripling, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the dedication sends the statement that Arkansas State embraces diversity. He emphasized the importance of honoring the contributions of these men in the public eye.

Smith’s widow, Earline, said the families’ shared experience formed an extended family who truly loved each other. She said never in her wildest dreams did she expect so many people would attend the dedication. Richmond’s widow, Velmar, said the dedication honored and dumbfounded her.

Strickland said he came to A-State and found friends immediately. He said he gained acceptance as a teacher because of his friendship with Smith, who had done it first. He said he became a dean because Moss mentored him.

Gaines claimed the dedication shows A-State as, “a beacon of light to which other institutions can come for divine wisdom and insight.”

Richard Hartness Sr. authored a book illustrating the families’ lives called “The Circle: Coping With Integrated Life at AState, 1970-1978.” A former student of Smith’s, Hartness said he learned of the story at the celebration of Smith’s life after his death. Hartness said Smith brought important aspects of American and black history to his students that sometimes corrected the history books. Hartness said he now teaches these ideas to his students at East Arkansas Community College.

Richmond’s family member, Sandra Smith, works as principal of the BCH2 Academy at Wynne public schools. She said the dedication provided an opportunity for her to bring ideas to her students and teachers. Smith said she often quotes Frederick Douglass — who said, “Education can be an equalizer” — to show the importance of education to her students.

“In 2017 when we find there is still racial tension at times, this (dedication) establishes the fact hard work does pay off, and there is a facet of America that recognizes hard work,” she said. “As (Arkansas State) honored these founders and pioneers, they have honored themselves. As we lift others up, we lift ourselves up and if we understand that, we will be a greater America.”