By Anthony D. Jackson
Imagine sitting in a restaurant with a group of friends just chatting and passing time until the storm outside blows over. Picture yourself sitting in the lobby of a hotel or office building watching and waiting out the rain outside and knowing that your umbrella will be of little use as there is just too much wind blowing. Visualize being miles away from your home and family and knowing that you will be surviving for the next couple of weeks with little or no money in your pockets and feeling imprisoned indoors due to a very rainy day.
Think about daydreaming of a big change in location or finally getting that job that you have been hoping for, whilewishing it would just stop raining outside. We all have been in situations where thepouring rain disrupts our plans and puts our lives on an inconvenient temporary hold. We never think that during these times that our lives can be ended or altered permanently in an instant.
It started raining very heavily in Raleigh North Carolina last Saturday afternoon and the campus of Shaw University was forever changed.
Shaw University in Raleigh North Carolina is a very proud institution steeped in history and tradition. Shaw University was founded in 1865 and is the oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the South.
A tornado struck fiercely during last Saturday’s rain. It got darker and darker outside and the wind grew louder and louder. Students eating in the cafeteria could look out the window and see objects being blown down the street. Students in the library could hear the trees blowing in the wind. Students in the dormitories and inother campus buildings could feel the windows rattling. It was scary. Then it got much worse.
A typical Shaw University student differs little from those young people who attendany College or University. Slight differences are that most Shaw University students come from struggling families. The majority of Shaw University students are first generation college students from their immediate families. Although these students may not have excelled in high school, as a Shaw University upper class student, theyhave learned how to study very hard and develop an intense desire to succeed in school and graduate from college. Shaw University students are no more prepared for the devastation and havoc that a tornado can instantly bring any more than therest of us would be.
The girls in the women’s dormitories were probably caught completely off guard when windows began to depart from their very frames only to be heard crashingdown into the center of campus or just seen flying away like kites. The young menin the men’s dormitories were probably more amazed by what was transpiring andsome of them raced to get into positions where they could take video of the incredible scene going on all around them. Students in the cafeteria and in the student union building could see, hear and then feel the incredible wind tear theroof off the building.
Shaw University was started immediately after the Civil War by Baptist Minister Henry Martin Tapper. The original students were freed slaves. The mission of theschool was to teach new freedmen how to read. The school is situated at thesouthern end of downtown Raleigh. The original buildings were erected out of red clay bricks that the students made by hand. Students also provided the labor for the construction of these buildings. The land for Shaw University was purchased by Elijah J. Shaw of Wales, Massachusetts.
The Shaw family of Massachusetts were abolitionists. They were committed to ending slavery many years prior to the CivilWar. The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was the first all black fighting unit to see combat during the civil war.With money from the Shaw family and with the assistance of Henry Martin Tupper and the Baptist Ministers of North Carolina, Shaw University flourished.
Estey Hall is the oldest building in the country erected to house college women. It isa national landmark. During the tornado, students were able to see the copper roof of this historic building rip apart in pieces. Three large Oak trees on the campus,each more than a century old, were ripped from their roots and downed while students stood terrified in the library. And all of this took only a few minutes. Luckily nobody was seriously injured.
When University officials assessed the damage it was quickly realized that three buildings on campus, including the cafeteria and the men’s and women’s dormitories were completely uninhabitable. The occupancy of other buildings on campus had to be restricted due to flooding and other safety concerns. Students had to evacuate the dormitories and take refuge for what was hoped to be only an evening in the gymnasium. Twenty four hours after the tornado, it was realized that there was a major casualty. This great institution of higher education had to closeits doors immediately and students were to be sent home.
Shaw University has survived much in it’s rich history. It is the first college in the United States to admit black women. At one time Shaw University had a medical school and a law school. Shaw University was the site of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] during the Civil Rights Movement.
Shaw University has survived a very tough economic climate and has remained a black owned private institution dedicated to providing opportunities for higher education. While this is a trying time at Shaw University there is every reason toe xpect that this great institution will be back and be stronger than ever. Graduation this year will go on as scheduled. The dreams and the hard work of the students scheduled to return to Shaw University will continue.