University of Memphis holds naming ceremony for Luther C. McClellan Alumni Mall 

Sept. 17, 2021 — Luther C. McClellan, the first African American graduate from the University of Memphis, is now the namesake of the alumni mall on the UofM campus. 

A marker placed just south of the Administration Building was unveiled Friday to recognize the Luther C. McClellan Alumni Mall. A recording of the ceremony can be viewed at facebook.com/uofmemphis. 

McClellan is a member of the Memphis State Eight — the first group of African American students admitted to the University in 1959. He became the UofM’s first African American graduate in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. He also earned a Master of Business Administration from Monmouth University. 

“It is quite an honor to receive this recognition,” McClellan said. “I applaud the University of Memphis for all of its efforts to make sure we are integrated, diverse and that all students get a fair opportunity to succeed. I am so proud to be a graduate.” 

After graduation, McClellan became an Air Force officer specializing in radar countermeasures. He worked as a computer expert at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and as a program director at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He retired in 1998 with more than 30 years of experience working for the FAA and Air Force. He also retired from the Air Force Reserves as a major. 

The Black Alumni Chapter of the UofM Alumni Association awards the Luther C. McClellan Scholarship annually to as many as three deserving minority students. This award recognizes students who have shown outstanding academic achievement, leadership qualities and community involvement.  

“It was an act of remarkable personal courage by Luther and so many others across this country that forced the United States to start facing the issue of racial injustice and equality,” said UofM President M. David Rudd. “We are certainly nowhere near where we need to be, but we are making progress due to that personal courage. I hope the people that visit this marker on the Luther C. McClellan Alumni Mall recognize and embrace the personal values, qualities and characteristics that fueled Luther’s persistence in the face of unparalleled adversity and great personal risk.” 

East of the Luther C. McClellan Alumni Mall, the University Center will be named in honor of civil rights pioneer Maxine A. Smith during a dedication on Oct. 29. Details for that event will be provided at a later date. Last November, a marker was placed outside Jones Hall to honor Dr. Miriam DeCosta Sugarmon, the UofM’s first Black professor. These dedications are part of the University-wide Eradicating Systemic Racism and Promoting Social Justice Initiative that was formed in August 2020.