First African American professor at University of Arkansas dies at 88

Local News

Remembering a Trailblazer, Mentor and University Professor: Gordon Morgan

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (News release) – University Professor emeritus Gordon Morgan, the first African American professor to be hired by the University of Arkansas, passed away Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. He was 88.

Morgan, hired in 1969 as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, earned promotions to associate professor, full professor and then the rank of University Professor during his more than 40 years on campus. He conducted research on the topics of race and education and was a key mentor to thousands of students. Morgan also helped African American students organize governing bodies for the first time and assisted in the integration of student residence halls.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Gordon Morgan,” Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said. “He was well known as one of the first African American professors at the University of Arkansas and as a sociologist who chronicled the first 40 years of campus life after desegregation began at the university in 1948, but his true legacy was his decades of nurturing, mentoring and teaching countless students. While a small thing, we are grateful that we were able to recognize him earlier this year by naming a student residence hall in his honor.”

Morgan officially retired and took emeritus status in 2012 but continued to teach and write. One of his best known works is a book that he wrote with his wife, Izola Preston, titled The Edge of Campus: A Journal of the Black Experience at the University of Arkansas. The book examined the first 40 years of campus life after desegregation began at the U of A.

He and his wife also established the Gordon Morgan Family Scholarship for minority students at the university.

In 2006, Morgan received the J. William Fulbright Distinguished Alumni Award, one of many distinguished honors throughout his career. He was also a recipient of the Silas Hunt Legacy Award, a National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Fellowship.

Gordon Morgan Hall, a residence hall in the Northwest Quad, was named in his honor earlier this year, along with the adjacent Margaret Clark Hall.

Gordon and Clark are the first two African American professors at the U of A and, combined, served 72 years on campus.

Dan Ferritor, chancellor emeritus, made remarks about Morgan while at the dedication of the residence hall, explaining how Morgan valued the relationships he had with his students.

“It’s hard to sum up what Gordon means to students,” Ferritor said. “By working every day in every way to help students reach their full potential, Morgan was a rock in many students’ lives. Even at 80 years of age, Morgan ‘was a cool dude.'”

Morgan was from Mayflower in Faulkner County and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, now known as the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. After college, he enlisted in the Army and served during the Korean War.

He earned a Master of Arts in sociology from the U of A and went on to earn a doctorate at Washington State University and teach at Lincoln University before joining the U of A faculty. He was a member of the Black Alumni Association and the Arkansas Alumni Association.

He is survived by his wife, Izola Morgan; his three children, Marsha, Brian and Marian; two grandchildren; one great-grandson; and two sisters, Geraldine Smith and Bobby Dewberry (Lenard).

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 27, in Fayetteville at the Nelson Berna Funeral Home on 4520 N. Crossover Road. Interment will follow at National Cemetery in Fayetteville.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Gordon Morgan Family Scholarship at the U of A. Those gifts can be made to the University of Arkansas Foundation and sent to:

Gordon Morgan Family Scholarship
University of Arkansas Student Affairs
325 Administration Building
Fayetteville, AR, 72701

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