by Jessie Ammons
Eight months after the end of the Civil War in 1865, former Union soldier Henry Martin Tupper used his army earnings to found Shaw University, the first university for freedmen in the South. A century and a half later, what was once a small but mighty Baptist school is now a Raleigh institution. “Throughout the changing landscape of this great city,” says vice president for institutional advancement Clarenda Stanley-Anderson, “Shaw University has remained a constant.”
Officially founded on December 1, 1865, the school has honored its anniversary throughout the year with lectures, banquets, and mini celebrations. The commemorations culminate this month at homecoming when, alongside the usual festivities, a black-tie gala will celebrate and fundraise. Stanley-Anderson says the November 6 event is the university’s first black-tie soiree in recent memory. “We felt our sesquicentennial anniversary was worthy,” she says. “You only turn 150 once!”
Proceeds will support student scholarships, which the university says is a way to honor the past by supporting the future. “There is a word in the Akan language of Ghana, sankofa, which translates to ‘reach back and get it.’ It attests to the importance of knowing and understanding your past journey in order to help determine your future steps.”
In that same spirit, a matinee musical revue November 8 will chronicle African-American music contributions throughout history. Produced by students and professors alike, From Harlem to Broadway, 150 years at Shaw University focuses on the impact of music and dance on Shaw life and curriculum. “It is important for us to honor and celebrate our legacy,” says Stanley-Anderson, calling the yearlong anniversary “the ultimate party with a purpose.”
Anniversary Gala: November 6; 7 p.m.; $107; 500 Fayetteville St.
Performance: November 8; 3 p.m.; $10 in advance, $12 at the door; C.C. Spaulding Gymnasium, 118 E. South St. Visit shawu.edu/150/events for more information.