Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I Shall Do Something For Your Race

In 1826, a young man was traveling through the wilderness of Tennessee in a wagon loaded with salt. We are not sure where he found the salt but we can be quite sure he was going to Indiana. The wagon was probably pulled by oxen and the roads were treacherous. It was night and the wagon slipped off the road. He was in serious trouble and only 16 years old. Nearby was a house.

The house was occupied by an African-American family who were freed slaves. We know neither their names nor how they became free. It must have been difficult to answer the door that night. Freed slaves lived in constant fear that they would be kidnaped again and sold back into slavery. However, this family rose above their fears and not only opened the door but invited him in and provided food. He was also invited to spend the night in their humble home.

The next morning the family helped get the wagon free so that Samuel Meharry could resume his long journey. “I have no money,” he said, “but when I can, I shall do something for your race.” Goodbyes were said and it would be 50 years before this American-Scot would fulfill the promise.

My oldest daughter, Elaine, did a search on Ancestry and found him in the 1850 census living in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. He was married to Rebecca who was 37 while he was 39. Samuel Meharry had a personal estate of $5,500. There were no children but five other people were living in the house ranging in age from 7 to 36. Three had been born in Germany.

The 1860 census has the family living in the same area but now he owns real estate valued at $51,610 and personal property of $3,000. He has done well in the last ten years. There are six other people livening on the property, ranging in age from 12 to 26. Two were born in Germany, one in Prussia and two in Ohio. In the 1880 census there are two adopted children perhaps the two from Ohio.

Samuel Meharry was basically a farmer but on his tombstone is the word “Reverend.” It may be that he was a circuit rider on Sunday but a farmer on Monday. Here the facts get a little unclear but this is what we presently know.

In 1876, the United Methodist Church and its Freedmen’s Aid Society were seeking aid to establish a medical program to train freed slaves and their children. At that time no medical school in the Southern states would admit African-Americans and most in the North were closed as well. Samuel Meharry was approached and remembered his pledge: “I have no money, but when I can, I shall do something for your race.” The first gift of $500 came from Samuel Meharry. In time, he and his four brothers would contribute $30,000 in cash and property to establish what would became today’s Meharry Medical College. It was first a department of Central Tennessee College.

The college was chartered in 1915 as a separate school and “is the largest private historically black institution in the United States solely dedicated to educating healthcare professionals and scientists.”

Today, the college is located in Nashville, Tennessee and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It is in partnership with nearby Vanderbilt University and Nashville General Hospital. It is also close to Fisk University and Tennessee State. Meharry has approximately 218 full-time faculty members with an enrollment of around 1,000. Read more.

“I have no money," he said, "but when I can, I shall do something for your race.”

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

This coming Saturday, August 4, is an important date on the calendar. It is the annual Scottish Home Picnic now almost 100 years old. The Museum will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Everyone is urged to attend. Visit us at the Scottish Home, 28th and Des Plaines Avenue, North Riverside, IL. Join us for piping, Highland dancing, games for adults and children, a huge jumble sale, great food and, of course, a trip to the museum in Heritage Hall.

Google Analytics tracks visits to the History Club website and they report that since January 1, 2012, slightly more than 6,000 people have visited and have viewed 10,398 pages. Most of the visits have been to Elaine’s name list. Click here

1 comment:

  1. An enjoyable and heart-warming story, Wayne :-)