Charles Marcon grew up in the late ’50s and early ’60s in a much less diverse Bethlehem, Pa., than currently exists. Of the over 800 students in his 1961 Liberty High School graduating class, “only about 20 students were Black.”
Yet issues of racial equity were on his mind from an early age. The noted Lehigh Valley philanthropist and CEO of Duggan & Marcon, a commercial and industrial finishes contractor, formed close relationships while playing alongside Black teammates as one of only a few white players on the Bethlehem Giants baseball team during high school, and on his basketball team as an officer in the Army.
But, he says, it was the love he felt as a grandfather—to 12 grandchildren, four of whom are biracial—that spurred him to make a $2.5 million gift to establish the Marcon Institute at Lehigh, dedicated to research and study that influences perspectives, practices and policies on racial justice.
“I started worrying about my biracial grandchildren. Would they be discriminated against? I became very concerned about their safety,” Marcon said. “That got me thinking about issues of race and what I could do about them. It’s easy to recognize them globally or nationally, but one person with limited resources will not make any impact at that level. But locally, I certainly could have impact.”
As he began looking for ways to address racial issues in the Lehigh Valley, Marcon determined that a college or university would provide both the wide-ranging impact and guaranteed sustainability he sought. Although Marcon is a 1965 graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina, Lehigh immediately came to mind because of his relationships with the university as a benefactor and contractor, as well as personal ones—his wife, Ruth ’68G, and sister Martha ’74 are alumnae, and Martha served on the Board of Trustees from 1995-2001.
Many discussions with Donald Outing, Lehigh’s vice president for equity and community, ensued, including an invitation by Outing for the Marcons to attend historian and author Ibram X. Kendi’s MLK keynote lecture on anti-racism at Lehigh in October 2019.