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N.C. Honors Shaw's Pioneering Medical School

Posted October 11, 2006

— Shaw University commemorated part of its history Wednesday, unveiling a state historic marker on the site of the nation's first four-year medical school for blacks.

Leonard Medical School became the first four-year school to train black doctors after the Civil War. It trained about 400 physicians to treat black patients between 1882 and 1918, when it closed.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Shaw President Clarence Newsome described the world the school's graduates faced.

"You're not going to tend to the medical needs of the wealthy and privileged. You're going to tend to the poorest of the poor," Newsome said.

More of than a dozen descendants of Leonard Medical School graduates attended the ceremony. They said they remember the lessons of sacrifice and service that were passed down to them.

"My uncle was the shining example of what Leonard Medical School was," said Dr. Brenda Armstrong, a pediatric cardiologist and associate dean at the Duke University School of Medicine and the niece of Leonard graduate Dr. L.P. Armstrong.

Many patients couldn't pay her uncle, Armstrong said, but he never turned anyone away.

"He and my father and my (other) uncle, who was a pharmacist, would figure out ways to take care of their patients because, for them, it was the defining piece of their life," she said.

The building that housed Leonard Medical School now is home to Shaw's Divinity School. But officials said the state's 1,496th historic marker will ensure more people learn about the Leonard legacy.

Of the 14 black medical schools that opened in the late 1800s, only two have survived -- Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.


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