Nine times out of 10 when Marc Hardge walks past the Multicultural Center on the University of Rhode Island campus, he kisses his hand and touches the 9-foot-tall memorial statue in front of the building.
That statue depicts Marc Hardge’s father, Reverend Arthur L. Hardge.
Rev. Hardge is one of the most accomplished and significant men in the history of the University of Rhode Island. He helped build the Talent Development program and, in doing so, became the first African American administrator at URI.
Now, Marc Hardge, his son, is following in his footsteps as a coordinator for Talent Development, where he mentors hundreds of students that come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I try to be like an older brother or parent figure to these students,” Marc Hardge said. “I tell my students as long as they work hard and make the program look good, I’ll take care of everything else.”
Talent Development is an admissions program that aims to show Rhode Island high school graduates that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not perform well on standardized tests, can still succeed at the collegiate level. The accepted students are first enrolled in two summer courses. If they pass the courses, they are then admitted to the school.
At the end of every summer, Marc Hardge tells the students about his father. He said he tells them that Rev. Hardge is the reason the program is what it is today.
In the summer of 1969, Rev. Hardge joined the program. He was the Special Assistant to the President and Director of Special Programs for Talent Development, which, at the time was called the Program for Disadvantaged Youth.
At that time, administrators lived on the URI campus during the summer with the students. Rev. Hardge was a single parent raising his son, Marc, who was born in 1964. Marc pretty much grew up on the campus.
“My history of the program goes back, like, 43 years,” said Marc Hardge, who was eight years old when he began living on campus.
Before Talent Development, Rev. Hardge was a notable civil rights activist. In the early 1960s, he partook in the Freedoms Rides alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1961, he joined the Interfaith Freedom Riders in their bus travels from Washington, D.C. to Tallahassee, Florida. While in Florida, Hardge and nine other clergymen from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, tested a segregated restaurant in the Tallahassee Municipal Airport to see if they would be served. They were arrested for unlawful assembly, served about ten days in a chain gang and were nicknamed the “Tallahassee Ten.”
Rev. Hardge moved to Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1960s when he was appointed to the Hood Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. He wasted no time in creating change in Rhode Island. In 1963, he was named the first chairman of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He then led a movement in which influenced the General Assembly and the governor to pass the Rhode Island Fair Housing Law, giving him the nickname “The Father of the RI Fair Housing Law.”
In 1968, Gov. John H. Chafee named him Director of the RI Department of Community Affairs, making him the first African American gubernatorial cabinet appointment.
“The only reason he got that job with Chafee is because he was republican,” Marc Hardge said. “Not a lot of people know that he was republican because he was so liberal.”
In Sept. 1968, Chafee lost the election, and Rev. Hardge was looking for a new job. Harold V. Langlois, who was director of the program, had the vision to get Rev. Hardge and Leo DiMaio for the team.
“Of course the university wanted to hire Hardge,” said Frank Forleo, assistant director for TD Admissions. “They had a really white campus and time was changing – Black Power, MLK was dead, people were pissed off, streets were on fire. He was a very attractive candidate.”
Rev. Hardge changed the program for the better and fought with his students to keep the program running throughout the years. If it wasn’t for Rev. Hardge, thousands of students may not have college degrees.
He died in 1983 at the age of 56 due to heart disease. His son, Marc Hardge, was 19, and then started his own construction company. He said he came back to the program in 2002 after getting daily phone calls from the Talent Development Director, Gerald Wallace.
“I work a dream job,” Marc Hardge said. “It’s the best job in the world. I walk passed my father immortalized every day and work for a program that helps students which he started.”