Shaw University — the South’s first historically Black institution of higher education

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Shaw University Sign | Terrence Jones Photography

Table of Contents

DYK: In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the second week of September National HBCU Week.

Let’s take a deep dive into the history of Shaw University, the first historically Black institution of higher education in the South, located right here in Raleigh.

What is an HBCU?

HBCU stands for historically Black colleges + universities. The term and acronym first came from the Higher Education Act of 1965, when federal funding was expanded to all universities and colleges. However, the first HBCU was established long before this act was passed.

The creation of these academic institutions was important since many Black students were denied admission to traditionally white colleges + universities.

Shaw is one of the oldest HBCUs in the nation + was founded by Baptist missionary Henry Martin Tupper in 1865. After founding Shaw, Tupper became an instructor and an administrator, and was even the pastor of a church next door.

A few firsts:

Shaw is not only the first HBCU in the South, it has collected quite a few other firsts as well.
🥇 The first HBCU in NC to get an A rating from the NC Department of Public Instruction.
🥇 The first college in the nation to offer a four-year medical program.
🥇 The first HBCU to allow women to attend.

Fast facts + major milestones

In 1960, the university established The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a student-led grassroots organization dedicated to helping people of color exercise their full rights as citizens.

In 1997, Shaw conducted a research study to determine why Black World War II veterans were excluded from receiving Medals of Honor, the top military award. As a result of this study, Shaw recommended ten Black soldiers to the Pentagon to receive the award, resulting in seven of the candidates being awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 2012, Shaw’s women’s basketball team — the Lady Bears — won its first NCAA Division II national championship. This title is the first national championship in the school’s history.

In 2013, Shaw’s students, staff, faculty, and alumni contributed $133 million to Wake County’s economy.

Fast forward to today:

Shaw University offers 30+ degree programs, including accredited programs in athletic training, kinesiotherapy, divinity, religious + teacher education, and social work.

Some notable alumni include Gladys Knight, Leonard Moore, and Ella Baker + Dr. Paulette Dillard, who is the university’s 18th President.


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