Hall Renamed After Thomas Morris, Washington College's First Black Graduate

11/02/2020

Class of 2020 chooses to honor Washington College's first black graduate, Thomas E. Morris '62, with re-naming of residence hall.

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A Spring 2020 initiative to honor the Class of 2020 was cemented with the recent announcement that Harford Hall is to be renamed Thomas E. Morris Hall, in honor of the College’s first black graduate, Thomas E. Morris.

Submissions for this honor came from all audiences and included alumni, students, faculty and friends from across three centuries of the College’s history. A nominating committee reviewed and narrowed those submissions down to three finalists and put the ballot before the graduating class to make the final selection.

The new name was officially revealed during the 237th Commencement Exercises, a virtual graduation ceremony that premiered on October 17.

An official Hall Dedication is being planned for the spring, where the new hall signage will be unveiled.

Morris, a native of Baltimore, excelled academically and on the Track and Field team during his time at Washington College. After graduating in 1962, he dedicated himself to service, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and then as a high school and college math teacher. For 27 years, he shared his love of math and problem solving with thousands of Baltimore students.

Felicia Atore ’20, nominated Thomas E. Morris for this honor. “This renaming is looking to our past and coming to terms with it as a Washington College community that is moving forward in equitable and just actions promoting inclusivity,” she said.

Atore spoke about the renaming during commencement, saying, “It is with complete and utmost joy that I join my fellow classmates in voting to rename Harford Hall after Thomas Morris. His legacy and history as the first black student to graduate from WC is now officially recognized, as a cement building block in the foundations of our alma mater.”

Another member of the Class of 2020, Jocelyn Elmore, also reflected on the immense significance of this tribute to Morris, saying,  “Not only does it acknowledge the history of the existence of black students on the college’s campus, but it also honors his legacy and endurance as the first, and the trials and tribulations that accompanied being the first African American student at Washington College.”

“The end result means a lot to me personally,” she added. “As the former President of the Black Student Union, it represents change that my fellow Black Student Union members and I have been fighting for, it represents hope for the future black students at Washington College, and it represents legacy for the entire class of 2020.”

Dr. Mellasenah Morris, Thomas’ widow, was also a part of the Graduation ceremony, reflecting upon the Hall renaming and addressing the graduates directly.  One sentiment she offered was that, “he would feel most special in accomplishing a mission dear to both of us – to ensure that the next generation of family would have greater opportunities to live lives of meaning and purpose.”

Her full remarks are below and accessible via this link:

We recognize the significance of engraving Thomas’ name upon a Washington College Hall. For us, it reflects upon the lasting impact and of Thomas’ legacy as the college’s first black student and graduate.

Thomas accepted the challenge of being the first, with seriousness of purpose and devoted himself to creating paths for others to follow. 

If Thomas had been a member of the Class of 2020 and facing this pandemic, he would have been heartbroken by the global health crisis. His decision to enter the Peace Corps after his 1962 graduation, suggests he would have been considering ways to effect positive change in battling this crisis. On campus he would have been a leader in managing his classmates’ personal disappointment of a delayed commencement ceremony. Thomas’ innate resilient spirit, blended with the lessons he had learned in and outside classrooms, would have found him encouraging others to be strong and patient while waiting for what we always called Plan B.  He never engaged in self-pity, he never complained.  Today I know Thomas would have been amazed by what is possible in this virtual world!

For 27 years Thomas shared with thousands of Baltimore area students the wonders of mathematical formulas and problem solving that he had mastered at Washington College.  Many of his students were welcomed into our home for mentoring and tutoring. To this day, former students still speak glowingly of his excellence and how he cared and expected the best from them. 

On a personal level, the most lasting aspect of Thomas’ life lies with his family.  He was a wonderful husband, father, son and brother.  While he would be endeared by the naming of Morris Hall at his alma mater, his greatest sense of accomplishment would be with how his own childhood and his Washington College education helped to shape the lives of our children and grandchildren.  He would feel most special in accomplishing a mission dear to both of us – to ensure that the next generation of family would have greater opportunities to live lives of meaning and purpose.  His love and devotion live in the hearts of our daughter and two sons, who in turn are nurturing their children.  I will look at Moris Hall with a sense of fulfillment knowing Thomas achieved the goals most dear to his heart. 

Members of the class of 2020, the education that you and my late husband received at WC is a privilege that cannot be taken from you.  It is yours to celebrate and take into the world to make it a better place. Thomas E. Morris would be proud of you and how you have overcome challenges to reach this point in your educational lives.  He would have confidence in the contributions you will make in moving this institution and this country towards more inclusivity, a healthier environment and a just society.  He would wish you happy, productive lives. Thank you for honoring Thomas E. Morris, as you become alumni of this distinguished institution.