CSUB to award Rev. Tyree Toliver honorary degree

April 1, 2009
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, kmiller26@csub.edu or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720, mnewell1@csub.edu
Rev. Toliver Honorary Degree Photo

California State University, Bakersfield will present an honorary doctorate posthumously to the Rev. Tyree Toliver at a commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 13 at the CSUB amphitheatre. Toliver, a legendary figure in Bakersfield's African-American and faith communities, was pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church from 1957 until his retirement in 2007 and was known as a strong advocate of civil rights, social justice and educational equity.

President Horace Mitchell will present the doctorate of humane letters in recognition of Toliver's commitment to education, employment, financial services and housing in southeast Bakersfield. Toliver died last year at the age of 85.

As a young man, Toliver moved from his hometown of Prescott, Ark. to Fresno, where he attended barber school. In the late 1940s he met his wife Rosa and the couple moved to Bakersfield where he began working at Hutson Barber Shop. Eventually Toliver bought the shop, but in 1957 found his calling and established St. John's. During his tenure, he developed a family assistance ministry, substance abuse and marriage counseling services, and an education council, which offers tutoring, test preparation and college scholarships.

Toliver was also an active defender of civil rights at a time when Bakersfield struggled with racial equality. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Kern County, Toliver marched alongside King and other community leaders to call attention to unfair employment practices of downtown Bakersfield merchants. Sustained efforts led to hiring of African-Americans in downtown stores. He was a community organizer and social activist, targeting education, employment, economic empowerment and housing for minorities and low-income residents of southeast Bakersfield. His triumphs include establishment of a permanent library in southeast Bakersfield the Holloway-Gonzales branch; increased access to financial services by southeast residents through the establishment of the first minority-owned federal credit union in Kern County; and increased housing opportunities for senior citizens by creating the first senior citizens housing development in Kern County built by a minority organization.

"He was a champion of the disenfranchised, marching for the civil rights and equal treatment of Bakersfield residents," Mitchell said. "He advocated non-violent protests of injustice and led and engaged in purposeful action. Put most simply, he walked the talk."

Toliver served as a member of the President's Advisory Board at CSUB for two four-year terms under two university presidents, holding CSUB accountable to serving the needs of the underserved students of the region. His son, Tyree Douglas Toliver, will accept the honorary degree on his father's behalf.

Toliver is survived by Rosa, his wife of almost 60 years, and his five children and 12 grandchildren.

This is the ninth honorary doctorate awarded by the university. Past recipients are veterinarian and legislator Walter Stiern, banker and businessman Ray Dezember, auto dealer Jim Burke, community volunteer Millie Ablin, attorney and community activist Milton M. Younger, attorney and civic leader George Martin, local realtor Bob Karpe, and former Congressman Bill Thomas.