During Black History Month the University of Maryland, College Park launched an online tour that highlights the rich African-American history on its campus. The online tour, created by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion features a number of sites that explores the history of African-Americans contributions to the campus.
The history spans from the founding of the university in 1856, when Maryland was a slave-holding state, to the first African-American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall’s involvement in leading the desegregation of the campus, to today’s landmarks. Some landmarks on the tour include the Benjamin Banneker room in Stamp Student Union, the David C. Driskell Center and Frederick Douglass Square.
The tour was put together by Dr. Kim Nickerson, assistant dean, equity administrator and diversity officer in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Four years ago, Nickerson began working on the project for a group of students who approached him to present a Black history presentation.
“I recognized that we had a long traditional history on this campus of African-Americans graduating and having an impact for their very presence on this campus,” Nickerson told the AFRO. “Since I knew some of this history, I put together a presentation for the students.”
Nickerson compiled the information from personal knowledge, colleagues on campus and other sources. He researched information from the university archives and national archives as well.
Last year, Nickerson gave the presentation at the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland for Black History Month. It became so popular he continued to give the presentation for different groups on campus.
Nickerson was approached by Dr. Roger L. Worthington, UMD’s chief diversity officer, to expand the presentation into an actual project. Nickerson said Worthington told him that the presentation was very powerful and it needed to be more generally available to people. That’s where the idea of creating the tour was born.
“Our historical legacy is an important part of the campus climate for diversity,” said Worthington, according to the University of Maryland’s press release. “We approached Dr. Nickerson to help us with this project and planned the launch for Black History Month as a way of acknowledging the struggles of our past and charting a path forward in building a more welcoming future.”
Nickerson sees the project as an effort to inform as many people, even those not on campus, to know the significant contributions African-Americans have made since the school was founded.
“There’s been a great African-American presence on this campus and this was an attempt to begin telling that story so that students, faculty, staff and the community can understand that this university belongs to everyone, including African-Americans,” Nickerson said. “African-Americans contributed to help make this university what it is today. Some of the history is painful. Some of the history is odious, but some of the history really is an example of triumph over adversity.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion and University of Maryland doctoral student Nana Brantuo are currently developing guided tours that will be offered later in the spring. Brantuo hopes that the tour will give people a feeling of inspiration and a sense of belonging on the campus.
“I want to people to step out of this having pride,” Brantuo said. “In particular Black folks. I want them to have a pride like, ‘Yes, we have come far and we still have a way to go.’ I kind of want this to also be a march to keep moving forward as an individual, but also pushing the institution, which is a public university, to move forward as well. Especially with regards to ensuring the space that students of all racial backgrounds can attend and drive them and do well here. I definitely want people to feel pride and just really amp them to doing more work within the community, on building on to this history of African-American presence at the University of Maryland,” Brantou told the AFRO.
Although the online tour launched during Black History Month, Nickerson hopes it will be equally important during anytime of the year.
“This is one of the enduring legacies that I can leave for this campus,” Nickerson said. “This tour and the information that I’ve compiled together can be archived for generations long after I’m gone. So whether it’s in Black History Month, or whether it’s in the spring or the fall at the height of people visiting the university, there’s already a commitment to integrate some of these sites into the regular tour. This will have an the enduring impact on this campus and I hope that enduring impact stretches beyond just the month of February.”