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Committee approves renaming UMaine lecture hall after first Black mathematics graduate

Born in Bangor, Beryl Warner Williams was the first Black graduate to earn a mathematics degree from the University of Maine.

ORONO, Maine — Changing the controversial name of a lecture hall was the topic of discussion at a University of Maine Finance, Facilities and Technology Committee meeting Wednesday morning. 

The committee unanimously approved the resolution to rename the building formerly named Clarence Cook Little Hall on the University of Maine campus. 

Little served as UMaine president in the 1920s. He was a supporter of the tobacco industry and a eugenicist. Eugenics aims to improve the human species by discouraging groups judged inferior from reproducing, such as the poor and criminals. 

Controversy over his past has already led to the removal of Little's name from a University of Michigan science building and from a Jackson Lab conference center in Bar Harbor. 

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University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy proposed replacing Clarence Cook Little's name with that of Beryl Warner Williams. 

Born in Bangor, Williams was the first Black graduate to earn a mathematics degree from UMaine in the 1930s. 

“She serves as a model and exemplifies the kinds of accomplishments that we wish to honor in this new name," President Ferrini-Mundy told NEWS CENTER Maine.

Williams was also a member of several civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP. 

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"I’m very proud of all of my colleagues and the community here at the University of Maine for taking a very deliberative and measured, but also an effective process for making this kind of a change," Ferrini-Mundy added. 

The name change of the lecture hall won't be official until it's approved at the UMaine System Board of Trustees meeting on May 24, University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt said. 

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