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Cover of the Shaw University Catalogue for 1876-1877
Cover of the Shaw University Catalogue for 1876-1877
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Shaw University: The First Historically Black University in the South

On December 1st, 2007, Shaw University, the South's oldest historically black university, turned 142. On this anniversary, DocSouth celebrates Shaw, which began with a single theology class for recently emancipated freedmen, offered by Dr. Henry Martin Tupper in 1865. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Baptist-affiliated, co-educational liberal arts institution was known as the Raleigh Institute from 1866 to 1870. The school changed its name to the Shaw Collegiate Institute in 1870, after Elijah Shaw funded the construction of the campus's first building, and five years later, the campus became known as Shaw University. In 1885, it became the first school in the South to train black doctors and pharmacists, and more recently, it conducted a study of why black World War II veterans had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor. This study culminated with President Bill Clinton awarding the Medal of Honor to seven of the ten veterans whom Shaw had recommended for the award.

A Shaw University catalogue dating from the 1876-1877 school year provides a glimpse into Shaw's early years. The catalogue features pictures of campus buildings, including Estey Hall, the first women's dormitory on a co-educational campus in the U.S. It also lists the university's trustees, faculty, and assistant teachers. A summary of student enrollment shows 240 students, including 89 women and 47 studying ministry. Additionally, the catalogue lays out the schedules of courses required in the university's various programs, lists the rules that students are expected to follow, and describes students' expenses, which came to around $8 a month.

More concerned with Shaw's history as an institution than with its day-to-day operations, is J.A. Whitted's A History of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina (1908), the ninth chapter of which chronicles Shaw's growth from "a negro cabin on the outskirts of the city," (p. 150) to an "institution of learning, that has done so much in uplifting" African Americans (p. 146). Whitted's chapter details key moments from the life of founder Henry Martin Tupper, including a night that Tupper and his wife spent guarding their house from a Ku Klux Klan attack. Whitted also describes Shaw's various graduate and professional programs, and discusses the international influence that Shaw has exerted by enrolling students from Africa and the West Indies as well as Central and South America (p. 163).

Both Whitted's book and the Shaw University catalog are part of DocSouth's "North Carolina Experience" Collection, which tells the story of the Tar Heel State as seen through representative histories, descriptive accounts, institutional reports, fiction, and other writing. A History of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina is also part of the "Church in the Southern Black Community" Collection, which documents the ways in which Southern African Americans experienced and transformed Protestant Christianity into a central institution of community life.

Harry Thomas