The Fresno Unified School Board voted on Oct. 13 to change the name of the Forkner Elementary School to H. Roger Tatarian Elementary School in honor of the award-winning journalist, Fresno State alumnus and faculty member.
“Roger Tatarian’s career as a journalist and professor demonstrates the transformative power of a Fresno State education,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. “By returning to his alma mater to educate a new generation, he changed his students’ lives, and now a Fresno school in his name will inspire countless children to pursue their dreams.”
Tatarian was a Fresno State Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ) faculty member for 15 years. The Roger Tatarian Journalism Grant, the Roger Tatarian Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Roger Tatarian Symposium were established in his honor.
“Roger Tatarian had an international reputation in journalism, and it reached well beyond our Fresno State community,” said Professor Betsy Hays, chair of the department. “But here in MCJ, we consider him family. He made his reputation around the world, and then came back to Fresno State to teach and inspire future journalists. His students remain active as alumni, giving back to the community and beyond in their chosen fields. They quickly got behind the effort to name a school for him, knowing that he deserved this honor. We in MCJ are thrilled that the school board chose to recognize Roger Tatarian in this very special way.”
In a statement, the Armenian Studies program added, “Roger Tatarian was a trailblazer in journalism and in the promotion of equality and justice for the underrepresented communities of the Valley. The long-overdue naming of a Fresno Unified School in his honor is a worthy recognition of his contribution and that of the thousands of Armenians who have made Fresno their home.”
Tatarian graduated from Fresno State in 1938 with a degree in political science. He began his career at United Press International, then a worldwide news reporting wire service. During World War II, he was a correspondent and continued to work for United Press International for the next 34 years.
He had a successful career, serving as the general news manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He was bureau chief in London and Rome, served as news editor in Washington D.C. and eventually became editor in chief.
Tatarian received many awards and honors, including the Elijah Parrish Lovejoy Award, a special citation by Ohio University and an honorary doctorate in law from Colby College in Maine in 1980. He was named a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi in 1972 and was among the first group inducted into the New York Society’s Hall of Fame. He also served as a Pulitzer Prize nomination juror in 1960, 1961 and 1985.
After his retirement, Tatarian returned to Fresno and joined the faculty at Fresno State. During that time, he served as a consultant to newspapers and wrote a regular column for The Fresno Bee. He also wrote a collection of essays, “Day of Mourning, Day of Shame,” published by Word Dancer Press in 1996. Tatarian passed away in 1995 at the age of 78.
According to media reports, the Fresno Unified School Board began looking into changing the school’s name after it came to light in historical legal documents that Jessie Clayton Forkner, the developer for the Fig Garden area, forbade the sale or occupancy of property to minoritized people, including Armenians.
Journalist, author and Fresno State alumnus Mark Arax proposed the name change at a board meeting in June after James Tatarian, the journalist’s grandson, requested his grandfather’s name be withdrawn from consideration for a new building, calling it “a consolation prize that is not suitable for a man of his accomplishments and stature.”
“The Armenian community is pleased that the Fresno Unified School District has chosen to recognize Roger Tatarian by naming a school after him,” said Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Berberian Coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State. “This recognition, with the naming of the first school in the district for an Armenian, is long overdue. This is a fitting honor for Tatarian.”