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My Black History Story Rooted in an HBCU


By Sheila Allison, MD, FACOG


So often, Black History Month reflections tell the tales of racism, overcoming incredible adversity, and recognizing those who have supported us during challenging times. I would like to acknowledge the role our historically Black medical schools have had in educating outstanding health care professionals.

Meharry Medical College was founded in 1876 as Medical Department of Central Tennessee College, originating with the incredible “Salt Wagon Story.” In the 1820s, Samuel Meharry was a 16-year-old in Kentucky and driving a salt truck in the rain when he slid off the road. He went to the nearest cabin, where newly freed slaves, still worried about their own safety, took him in, fed him, and assisted him in moving his wagon out of the ditch. Meharry promised that when he was financially able, he would somehow repay the act of kindness by doing something to support and uplift the Black community. True to his word, he and his four brothers eventually donated land and a generous $30,000 to start what later became Meharry Medical College.

I am a proud third-generation Meharrian. I cannot overstate the school’s commitment to not only providing medical students with a quality education but also instilling the principle of caring for, listening to, and respecting patients. We felt supported and valued as future physicians. Meharry Medical College and Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., have provided the nation with the majority of men and women who provided health care to America’s critically underserved Black community. That mission continues today.

Meharry does not just educate; it creates a space that fosters community. I would be remiss if I did not mention the invaluable support and love I received from my classmates, many of whom remain among my best friends today. Having them to lean on, vent to, cry with, laugh with, and celebrate with resulted in medical school being some of the best years of my life.

We must celebrate the positive and the gift that Meharry has been to our nation in the area of health care and acknowledge the fine physicians who have been a product of that institution. Our historically Black medical schools have given us the space that so many of us have needed to become our country’s leaders in medicine today.

The theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance. This February, ACOG wants to hear from our members about how they’ve created, benefited from, or seen the need for space to resist racism and work toward equity in medicine or in their institution. Email [email protected] to share a story in the form of a written essay, visual art, or a video.