The Story of Meharry . . . An Act of Kindness
In the 1820s, 16-year-old Samuel Meharry was hauling a load of salt through Kentucky when his wagon slid off the road into a muddy ditch. With rain and nightfall limiting his options, Samuel searched for help.
He saw a modest cabin that was home to a black family recently freed from slavery. The family, still vulnerable to slave hunters paid to return freedmen to bondage, risked their freedom to give Meharry food and shelter for the night.
At morning’s light, they helped lift the wagon from the mud and Meharry continued his journey. The black family’s act of kindness touched young Meharry so deeply that he vowed to repay it. “I have no money now,” he said as he departed, “but, when I am able, I shall do something for your race.” Tragically, history never recorded the name of the courageous black family, and perhaps their identity even receded in the mind of Samuel Meharry as he grew prosperous in the years that followed.
Even so, 40 years later, as the Civil War ended and black citizens began their long struggle for rights guaranteed by the Constitution, Meharry seized an opportunity to redeem his vow. When leading Methodist clergymen and laymen organized the Freedmen’s Aid Society in August 1866, to “elevate former slaves, intellectually and morally,” Meharry acted. He and his four brothers Alexander, David, Hugh and Jesse, pledged their support to Central Tennessee College’s emerging medical education program. With $30,000 in cash and real property, the Meharry brothers repaid the black family’s Act of Kindness with one of their own.
In 1876, they funded the College’s Medical Department, which evolved over time into what we now know as Meharry Medical College. A special thank you to the Meharry Archive Staff for their assistance in our research.
To access Meharry College’s archives please use this link –
I had (2) ggg uncles to attend his college. Fountain L. McDavid M.D. & Henry Smith M.D. / D.D.Of Bastrop Co Texas and still today I am so proud of them to be African Americans and have a brain for medicine.
I recently found out that I had a ggg uncle named Wirt Washington Sumlin who may have graduated in 1905 from Meharry and became a general practice physician in Nashville afterwards.