Sad News: Milfred Fierce

Dear all,

I am very sorry to let you know the sad news that Professor Milfred Fierce died yesterday. Professor Fierce’s impact on Vassar past and present has been profound, and he will be deeply missed by his colleagues, students, friends, and the community.

Professor Fierce was the first director of Vassar’s Urban Center for Black Studies established in 1969—one of the first such programs in the country. His advocacy was central to Vassar creating a major in Black Studies long before other peer schools did so. Critical to Professor Fierce’s vision for education in Black Studies was its location in the heart of the Black community in the City of Poughkeepsie. Under Professor Fierce’s direction, the Black Studies program at Vassar College became a model for subsequent programs in the country. Professor Fierce was also a scholar, known for his book, Slavery Revisited: Blacks and the Southern Convict Lease System 1865–1993.

Professor Fierce’s commitment to students was unparalleled. Inspired by his leadership, Vassar students played a pivotal role in a larger social movement, as the transformative Main Building takeover in 1969 became part of the nationwide modern Civil Rights Movement and the National Black Student Movement. He supported them through the takeover, which led to Black Studies becoming a major and the integration of Black Studies and subsequently Africana Studies into the Vassar curriculum. In 2019, Professor Fierce returned to campus for the 50th anniversary celebration of Africana Studies and reflected “Vassar has no comparison…I can’t imagine my life without it.” Learn more about Professor Fierce and the anniversary event here.

Professor Fierce worked tirelessly against the anti-Blackness that threatens our unity as a country, and his memory serves as an unapologetic role model for inclusion and equity. Professor Fierce’s pioneering efforts were revolutionary for their time and continue to resonate today. As we grapple with persistent racial injustices, let us draw inspiration to foster community in ways that promote greater racial equity on campuses everywhere and beyond.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604