Howard University is renaming its College of Fine Arts after one of its most acclaimed alums: actor Chadwick Boseman.
The renaming unites Howard and Walt Disney Co.’s executive chairman, Bob Iger, who will spearhead fundraising for an endowment named after Boseman, as well as help raise money for the construction of a state-of-the-art building on the campus. The new building will house the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, its TV station, WHUT, and its radio station, WHUR 96.3 FM.
In the days following his death, Howard students circulated a petition to have the fine arts college renamed for Boseman. Unbeknown to the students, Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said he, too, was thinking of a way to honor him. Before his death, Boseman had agreed to serve on the board of the fine arts college and was developing a Master’s Class series for students, Frederick said.
“We are very excited. This is the right thing to do,” Frederick said. “Chadwick’s love for Howard University was sincere, and although he did not live to see those plans through to fruition, it is my honor to ensure his legacy lives on.”
The 2018 film “Black Panther,” produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, catapulted Boseman to international acclaim as the movie’s lead character King T’Challa. The film brought in more than $1.33 billion in revenue, with $700 million in U.S. box office receipts alone, according to the movie financial tracking website the-numbers.com.
Frederick said he was aware that Iger and Boseman had bonded following the film’s opening. After Boseman’s death, he approached Iger with the idea of honoring the late actor who in films also played James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall.
Iger, Frederick said, “wanted to ensure” he helped “memorializing” Boseman’s work and the university’s efforts in “diversifying the entertainment industry.” Frederick said Iger made a personal donation, but declined to elaborate.
In a statement, Iger called Boseman an “extraordinary gifted, charismatic and kindhearted person” noting his “iconic” performances in a string of films along with his “tireless commitment” to helping others.
“Through his tremendous example, he inspired millions to overcome adversity, dream big and reach beyond the status quo, and this college named in his honor at his beloved Howard University will provide opportunities for future generations of artists to follow in his footsteps and pursue their dreams,” Iger said.
The renaming of the College of Fine Arts comes just weeks after Howard named award winning “Cosby Show” actress and Howard alumna Phylicia Rashad as the college’s dean. When Boseman was a student, Rashad befriended Boseman and became one of his mentors. It was also Rashad who helped Boseman secure funding to pay for him to attend a summer acting program at Oxford University while at Howard.
“Unrelenting in his pursuit of excellence, Chadwick was possessed with a passion for inquiry and a determination to tell stories, through acting, writing, and directing, that revealed the beauty and complexity of our human spirit,” Rashad said.
In 1997, when Boseman was a student, he led a protest of the administration at the time when officials decided to consolidate the College of Fine Arts into the larger College of Arts & Sciences. In 2018, Boseman received an honorary doctorate from Howard and was the commencement speaker, inspiring graduates and their families with stories about his student days. It was then when Frederick announced the fine arts college would return to its independent status.
Frederick said because of economic challenges caused by the pandemic, no date has been identified to break ground on the building. “This may take some time, but we’re moving with haste,” he said.The new building, he said, will be located in the existing parking lot directly behind the current College of Fine Arts building.
Boseman’s parents said their son “would be overjoyed by this development.” “His time at Howard University helped shape both the man and the artist that he became, committed to truth, integrity, and a determination to transform the world through the power of storytelling,” Caroline and Leroy Boseman said in a statement.
Boseman’s widow, Simone Ledward-Boseman, also celebrated the renaming. “Chad was a very proud Bison,” she said, referring to the university’s mascot. “ . . . The reestablishment of the College of Fine Arts brings this part of his story full-circle and ensures that his legacy will continue to inspire young storytellers for years to come.”