Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Lafayette University Honors the First Slave to Earn a College Degree

October 16th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

On September 27, 2008, Lafayette University dedicated a statue to the memory of David McDonogh. McDonogh was not only the College’s first Black graduate, but also the first enslaved Black person known to have earned a college degree. The 16 foot statue, made from 4 tons of steel, is called “Transcendence.”

David McDonogh was sent to Lafayette by his master, John McDonogh. A Louisiana Rice Planter, John McDonogh was a strong supporter of the movement to send freed slaves to Liberia.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1844, David McDonogh was committed to pursuing further education. He and his master severed their relationship when it became clear that McDonogh had no intentions of moving to Liberia. His dream was to complete his education and work as a physician in the U.S. David McDonogh eventually completed his medical studies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

McDonogh would go onto have a long and successful career as a physician, serving Black and white patients for over 40 years. Later in his life he added a u to his last name, presumably to further distance himself from his early life in bondage. He died in January of 1893. In 1898 McDonogh Memorial Hospital was opened in his honor. Located in Harlem, the hospital was committed to serving all patients, regardless of race.

ForĀ  fascinating account of David McDonogh’s life, click THIS LINK.

David McDonogh’s 12 foot high tombstone. He was buried in New York’s historic Woodlawn Cemetery. The prominent location of his grave and marker, behind the main building of the cemetery, is a reflection of his high status within the greater New York area.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African American Students, African Americans, Black History, Black Students, Current Events, David McDonogh, Higher Education, Lafayette University, race

6 Responses

  1. SjP

    Now this is really a coincidence. I was wondering to whom this very significant honor belonged! Much obliged for the info!

  2. SerenityLife

    Thank you. I was unaware of this story of David McDonogh! I definitely will be learning more. I appreciate the introduction.

  3. Richard

    David McDonogh left a rich legacy (just read the epitaph on his elegant tombstone. He also changed his middle name to Kearney — the last name of the physician who mentored him through P&S Medical School and provided him with his first hospital appointment (The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary: founded by John Kearney Rogers. His legacy — the McDonough Memorial Hopsital was not in Harlem, but on West 41st Street in Manhattan.

  4. Ajuan Mance

    Hi Richard, thanks for your comments; and thank you for the correction (re: the location of McDonough Memorial Hospital). It’s very interesting that he changed his middle name to Kearney. I am learning more and more about how many formerly enslaved Black people changed their names upon being freed; and as you indicate, free Black folks often changed their names to those of white (or Black) mentors, abolitionists, and other supporters.

  5. Bernard Carman

    The McDonough (so-spelled) Memorial Hospital was located at 219 W. 41st st., not in Harlem. The site is now subsumed in the entrance to Lincoln Tunnel.

  6. Ajuan Mance

    Hi Bernard,

    Thanks for the correction. This is very helpful information. I will make the necessary corrections to the post.