Black History Month

Meharry is Black history—

How Meharry and Nashville were thrust into the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement

FROM THE MEHARRY LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES • This year, 2024, marks the 60th anniversary of the signing into law of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. The city of Nashville played an important role in the era of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Unique in the establishment of four historical Black colleges and universities in one southern city, North Nashville’s place is cemented in the history of the Movement. In that three of the colleges are located within such close proximity—an academic mile—is another fact that solidifies the relationship of these institutions to this day. It is no small coincidence that the seeds of protest had been sown in the streets of Nashville, where a group of determined students made their stand. These brave students represented American Baptist College (American Baptist Theological Seminary), Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University (Tennessee A& I College).

 

Each week during Black History Month, The Digest will feature a story on how Meharry contributed to the success of the Civil Rights Movement both locally and on the national front. In succeeding weeks, we will showcase those who represent Meharry’s role in the Movement that changed a nation, where the drama of American democracy played out on the stage of this city.

The bombing of the home of Z. Alexander Looby

The entry of Meharry in the Movement began on April 19, 1960. The home of famed civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby was bombed. In the early 1930s, Attorney Looby was appointed lecturer in medical jurisprudence at MMC. Years later as Looby’s reputation and success as a civil rights attorney grew, he became one of many to be targeted for his activism in the Movement. As it happens, attorney Looby’s home was directly across the street from the campus of Meharry. On that fateful morning, terrorists detonated 21 sticks of dynamite—a blast so strong it shattered windows in campus buildings. Looby and his wife survived the assassination attempt, and the moment galvanized students to act. Meharry students were a part of the march and moment which would culminate in one of the most important incidents in the history of the Movement both locally and nationally.

From daughter of slaves to first woman on the Board of Trustees of the AMA

Dr. Lucille F. Weathers Miller was the only woman to graduate from the Meharry School of Medicine in 1900, tirelessly following in the footsteps of Meharry’s first female graduate, Georgia Easter Lee Patton Washington in 1893.

 

Born in 1884 to former slaves in tiny Woodville, Mississippi on the Louisiana border, Miller defied all odds by becoming the first Black woman licensed to practice medicine by the Mississippi State Board of Health. In 1919, Dr. Lucille Miller, along with her husband, Dr. Samuel A. Miller, established themselves as both physicians and surgeons when they founded the L.F. Miller Hospital and Nurse Training School in Jackson, Miss. The facility operated in the Central Black Business District in downtown Jackson. They practiced in Mississippi for 19 years before moving to Chicago and practicing for another 12 years.

 

Dr. Lucille Miller spent the last 15 years of her career practicing in Orange, New Jersey. She was a staff member of the Community Hospital of Newark N.J. and an officer of the Essex County Tuberculosis League. At the time of her death on September 9, 1947, Dr. Miller was the first woman elected to the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association.

 

Dr. Miller had two sons, both of whom became doctors. Dr. William Edward Miller, M.D., began his career teaching at Meharry in 1932. Her other son, Dr. Johnston Albert Miller, D.D.S., received his degree from Meharry in 1923.

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Mollie Moon: Pharmacist, civil rights fundraiser, socialite, Meharrian

Mollie Lewis Moon, born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907, graduated from Meharry’s School of Pharmacy in 1928. Though she worked as a pharmacist in several states before moving to New York, she is best known as founder and president of the National Urban League Guild. Founded in 1942, The Guild was the fundraising branch of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization based in New York City that supports economic and social justice for African Americans and against racial discrimination.

 

Tanisha C. Ford, the author of Our Secret Society: Mollie Moon and the Glamour, Money and Power Behind the Civil Rights Movement called Moon a “fundraiser extraordinaire” because she helped raise millions to fund the Civil Rights Movement. Ford wrote: “She was a force behind the mutual aid network that connected Black churches, domestic and blue-collar laborers, social clubs and sororities and fraternities across the country.”

 

It was Mollie Moon who began the annual National Urban League’s black-tie Beaux Arts Ball, now a fixture of New York tradition. Through her various events that included the elite of Black and white society, Mollie raised millions for the National Urban League’s racial equality programs. As much as she is remembered as a socialite, she was also an activist and humanitarian.

 

Mollie Moon served as president of The Guild until her death in 1990 in New York City.