One Chance Encounter Established A Monumental Legacy

The dental school at Meharry Medical College
Abeni Jones
April 30, 2020

Life was often rough for formerly enslaved folks in 1826 Kentucky. Poverty, violent racism, and the threat of re-enslavement abounded.

So when a white teenager knocked on their door, the family of “freedmen” who peered out at the stranger were understandably skeptical.

He was Samuel Meharry, whose wagon had crashed. The family graciously fed Meharry, let him spend the night, and in the morning helped him fix his wagon and be on his way.

“I have no money now,” he reportedly said, “but when I am able, I shall do something for your race.” The family sent him off, expecting nothing in return - just happy to have helped a fellow human being in crisis.

40 years later, Meharry stayed true to his word. He donated $30,000 and a tract of land to Central Tennessee College, an all-Black college. They used the donation to open a medical school, one of the few in the country for Black students.

When it became its own university, it was renamed Meharry Medical College, an HBCU still focused today on improving medical outcomes for “underserved” populations.

Though we have every reason to be skeptical of strangers, it’s in our culture to be generous and caring to folks in distress without expectation of reward. But sometimes the reward does come - in this case, in the form of a pioneering Medical school!

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