12/01 – Shaw University

An early 1910s postcard depicting the Shaw Building. (Flickr)

On this day in 1865, Shaw University – the US South’s first historically Black college – was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina. American Baptist Minister Henry Martin Tupper led the construction of school buildings around his Second Baptist Church of Raleigh, and began teaching freedmen (former slaves) in 1865. In 1875, the school became Shaw University when it received a significant grant from Elijah Shaw. The Shaw Building – at the time, the school’s main schoolhouse – was built in a cornfield where Tupper once hid from lynch mobs. Over the years, Shaw University grew to host a law school (from 1888) and a medical school (1881), both the first institutions of their kind for Black people in the country. The school(s), faculty and students have faced harassment and even threats from its opening to the present day.

Shaw University played an important part in the American Civil Rights movement, beginning in 1960 with the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at a meeting in the Shaw Building. Led by Ella Baker – a civil and human rights activist – the SNCC went on to help run the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma Campaigns. In 1995, the school published a report stating that Black soldiers who fought in WWII were less likely to be awarded medals for bravery than whites. The Department of Defense vetted and supported the findings and in 1997, US President Bill Clinton belatedly presented the Medal of Honour to seven Black American veterans.

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