The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 16, 1998
Nov. 16, 1998
VOL. 28, NO. 12


A Portrait Of Changing Times

Leslie Rice
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

CultureFest 1998 brought with it a Hopkins historic first: the unveiling of a portrait of a person who isn't a white male. The painting, now hanging in Levering Hall at Homewood, is of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a black man.

Painted by artist Nathaniel Gibbs, it was funded by Homewood Student Affairs, and its unveiling is the culmination of an effort to commission portraits that are more representative of the people who work and study here. The effort was spearheaded by Rose Varner-Gaskins, program coordinator at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Nathaniel Gibbs and Rose Varner-Gaskins with Gibbs' portrait of Thurgood Marshall.

"Many of us feel that it is past time to a have a portrait like this one," says Varner-Gaskins. "Pictures, portraits--they can inspire you. But if you are a woman or a person of color and all you see are portraits of white men hanging on your university's walls, it's hard to be inspired. A portrait of someone like Thurgood Marshall is inspiring for many of our students; his picture can remind them of what they are fighting for to be here."

After getting the go-ahead to commission a portrait, Varner-Gaskins and a committee debated over a list of about 20 historical figures, some connected with Hopkins, some not. They kept coming back to Thurgood Marshall, who grew up in Baltimore but had no connection with Hopkins.

"Thurgood Marshall was instrumental in the desegregation of education," she explains. "That's why we chose him. And now he begins again, with the desegregation of the walls in Hopkins."