Harding University Honors African American Alumni

Plaques celebrating trailblazing students will be installed near a building named after Black undergrads.

Elijah Anthony and Howard Wright
Elijah Anthony and Howard Wright. Courtesy: Harding University

Elijah Anthony and Howard Wright were the first African American undergraduate students to earn bachelor’s degrees from Harding University. President David Burks announced yesterday the university will celebrate these two men by naming the administration building in their honor.

“Elijah Anthony and Howard Wright are deserving of this honor,” Burks said. “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 story, according to a news release. Additional plaques will be installed nearby. One will honor the first three African American students who enrolled as undergraduates at the university: Lewis Brown, Walter Cunningham and David Johnson. The other will honor Thelma Smith and Curtis Sykes, the first two African American students to be awarded graduate degrees from the university.

A dedication ceremony 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.

David Johnson, Lewis Brown and Walter Cunningham
David Johnson, Lewis Brown and Walter Cunningham. Courtesy: Harding University

This announcement was made following a proposal in October by the University Task Force on Recognizing African American Achievement at Harding University and recently approved by the board of trustees. The task force was formed in June 2020 and is made up of Black and white members of the Harding board of trustees, faculty, administration, students and alumni. The goal of the task force was to identify the meaningful and appropriate ways to memorialize and celebrate the history and presence of African American students and alumni at the university.

“I am grateful to former President Bruce McLarty for initiating the task force on recognizing the contributions of students of color since Harding integrated in 1963 and to Dr. Burks and the board for continuing this relevant and necessary work,” Elijah Anthony said. “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. For that, I applaud Harding’s administration, faculty, staff and students for continuing the conversation toward racial equality and unity.”

Curtis Sykes and Thelma Smith
Curtis Sykes and Thelma Smith. Courtesy: Harding University

Anthony was born in Birmingham, Ala. in 1946 and enrolled at Harding in 1966. Wright was born in Chester, Penn. in 1945 and enrolled at Harding in 1965. In May of 1968 Anthony and Wright both graduated from Harding University with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Since graduating, Anthony and Wright have been named distinguished alumni recipients.

“When we stepped onto the Harding campus, we stepped into history,” Howard Wright said. “When we graduated from Harding, we stepped into history. We didn’t come to Harding to make history. We didn’t even know that we were making history, but it was history, nonetheless.”

Harding also has plans to honor the life of Botham Jean, an alumnus from St. Lucia, who was murdered in 2018 at his home in Dallas. An announcement with more details will be made soon.