The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University in Nasheville, Tennessee, has unveiled 10 new portraits of individuals of all races from Vanderbilt’s present and past who have made the university a more inclusive space for Black students, faculty, and staff. The 10 Legacy Pioneer Portraits, painted by James Threalkill, will hang in the study lounge inside the center. The portraits include Rev. Walter R. Murray, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, Eileen Carpenter, Sheryll Cashin, Peter Pratt, Ray Winbush, Tonya Mitchell, Monica Peek, Akaninyene Ruffin, and former Chancellor Gorden Gee.
“This project is about helping the Vanderbilt community to see, understand and appreciate the Black history of the university and those who helped shape that experience for the better,” said Rosevelt Noble, assistant dean of students and director of the Black Cultural Center. “It’s important for students who frequent the Black Cultural Center to realize that a lot of people made significant sacrifices to make their experience what it is today.”
The Legacy Pioneer initiative was inspired by Dr. Nobel’s project, “Lost in the Ivy,” which involved hundreds of interviews and personal narratives on the African American experience at Vanderbilt. After hearing about the lasting impact of particular individuals and events in improving the Vanderbilt culture, Dr. Noble was selected to start the Legacy Pioneer project. Dr. Nobles stated that this group of 10 individuals is just the first class of Legacy Pioneers with much more to come in the future.
Dr. Noble said that he “hopes that by learning about the legacy pioneers and engaging with the university’s racial history, students will have a greater appreciation for their current experience, as Vanderbilt has not always been like it is now.”
Dr. Noble holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and human and organizational development and a Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University.