In Memoriam: Milfred C. Fierce, 1937-2023

Milfred C. Fierce, a long-time educator and founder of the Black studies program at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, died on July 20 in Georgia. He was 86 years old.

Fierce graduated from Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, in 1960 with a major in economics. For several years he taught at Junior High School 35 in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, a mile and a half from his family home in Crown Heights. He earned his master’s degree in education from Wagner in 1967.

In July 1969, Fierce became the first director of the  Urban Center for Black Studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The center with offices in downtown Poughkeepsie, two miles from the pristine campus of the liberal arts college, had a community focus.

At that time, most of those Black students at Vassar lived together in Kendrick House, where Fierce and his wife were “house fellows.” Fierce was supportive of Vassar students’ role in the civil rights movement and was a guiding force in the transformative peaceful takeover of Main Building on the Vassar campus in 1969. The protest ended when the college agreed to Black studies becoming a major and the integration of Black studies into the Vassar curriculum.

Later, Fierce joined the faculty at Hunter College in New York City, while he was studying for a doctorate at Columbia University. He later served on the faculty of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York for nearly 20 years, retiring in 1999. Dr. Fierce was the author of Slavery Revisited: Blacks and the Southern Convict Lease System 1865–1993 (African Studies Center, Brooklyn, 1994).

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