Local News

Former Medical School's Legacy Inspires Many At Shaw University

Posted February 25, 2004

— Part of the rich heritage of

Shaw University

is its contribution to the health of several generations of African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Today, the Leonard Building at Shaw University trains ministers of the Gospel to heal the soul, but it began as a training ground to heal the body.

Shaw had a medical school that graduated about 400 medical doctors. The school closed in 1918, but the classic building where those doctors were trained still stands as an inspiration.

"When you walk into this building you should take off your shoes, because the ground that you're standing on is holy ground," said James Roberson,

Shaw University Divinity School

dean.

Roberson says the Leonard Building and the old hospital next door are great points of pride at Shaw. After the Civil War, northern missionary groups recognized a great need among former slaves.

"Before, their health care had been provided by the owners. Now, they're on their own," said Dr. Todd Savitt, a medical historian at East Carolina University.

According to Savitt, 14 black medical schools were established to train black physicians. Only three schools survived into the 20th century, including The Leonard School of Medicine.

The building was renovated to suit modern needs, but the original school was built with cost savings in mind.

Shaw's first president, the Rev. Henry Tupper, promised his Baptist missions board that the medical school would pay for itself.

A little financial help from his brother-in-law got things started.

"His name was Leonard, and that's how the school got the name Leonard Medical School," Savitt said. "The seeds of its failure were in its founding, because Tupper made all these promises about being self sustaining and not being a drain on the school and it actually could not do that."

Many students were too poor to finish the four-year program and very few of its graduates ever made enough money to help their alma mater. The little support available went to more successful black medical schools.

Leonard Medical School closed after 36 years of service, leaving a lasting legacy.

"The spirit of our ancestors are in the walls as we teach," Roberson said. "I think it gives our students a great deal of pride."

The two black medical schools that survived from the same era are Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Meharry in Nashville, Tenn.

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