After moving to Raleigh, Tupper, a former Union soldier, began to teach Bible classes to freed slaves. However, it soon became clear that demand existed for an overall education beyond simply religious study.
Initially, classes were held in the Guion Hotel and in Tupper’s home, but more permanent facilities were soon needed. The Institution moved to a lot on the corner of Blount and Cabarrus streets, where it became known as the Raleigh Theological Institute, educating equal numbers of men and women. The lot and structure were financed by Tupper’s own money, the Freedman’s Bureau, and the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
The school continued to grow, though, and soon needed even more space. In the 1870s, the institution moved to its present site. The new building was named Shaw Hall in honor of Elijah Shaw, its largest contributor, and the school became known first as the Shaw Collegiate Institute and then, in 1875, as Shaw University.
The university continued to expand, and celebrated many more firsts. Shaw’s Leonard Medical School was the first four-year medical school in North Carolina to train African Americans for careers as doctors and pharmacists; the University also provided the only law school for African American students in the South.
Shaw alumni later became presidents of new HBCUs founded in North Carolina, such as Fayetteville State University and North Carolina Central University. Other notable alumni include SNCC leader Ella Baker, twentieth-century NCCU president James Shepard, and historian Benjamin Quarles.
In 1960, Shaw University was also the site of the organizing conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; some 300 students gathered at the university to form an organization which over the coming years would become deeply involved in the freedom rides, the Albany Movement, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer, discussing issues ranging from desegregation of public facilities to racial problems in education.
One hundred forty-seven years after its founding, Shaw University continues to educate young men and women in Raleigh, North Carolina.
To learn more, and to view illustrations, check out this link from Shaw University Archives & Special Collections, this link from the UNC Library, and this page from the North Carolina History Project. Additional information can be found in Wilmoth Annette Carter’s Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation (Shaw University 1973).
To learn more about Henry Martin Tupper, check out this link from North Carolina State University. The Tupper Memorial Baptist Church was named for him.
To view The Catalogue of Shaw University (1876-1877), check out this link from Documenting the American South, which also provides a summary of Shaw University’s history.
For more about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007), and this blog post. To learn more about Ella Baker, check out Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (UNC Press 2005).
Benjamin Quarles’ 1961 publication The Negro in the American Revolution is available from UNC Press and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.