Harris-Stowe State University: “It was an academic and career launching pad”

Emory medical school dean traces his success back to Harris-Stowe

Robert Lee, is a 1966 graduate of Harris Teachers College. He is an associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine.

The summer of 1962 was my year.

I had completed high school as the only African-American student to have completed the newly-developed college prep program at the 99 percent “all white” Central High School in St. Louis.

I had done reasonably well and had applied to and been accepted to the University of Missouri in Columbia (Mizzou), as well as to Morehouse College in Atlanta.

I was offered a $250 scholarship (Curator’s Scholarship at Mizzou) and an un-named scholarship at Morehouse for the same amount on a yearly school budget of about $1,800.

Did I mention that I am the youngest of nine surviving children of parents who only completed the 10th and 11th grades?

And, as it related to Morehouse, my acceptance came about only seven years following the tragic murder of Emmett Till, in Mississippi, so my mother was adamantly afraid of sending her youngest male child to the South.

Having no familial financial resources available, I also applied to what was then referred to as Harris Teachers College as a back-up. I made myself satisfied to enroll there because I knew that completing college anywhere would be my launching pad to other opportunities.  I was disappointed, for sure, because I couldn’t go away to college, but I was determined to succeed no matter where I attended.

Harris Teachers College was the local college for those interested in becoming teachers and for those like me who had the preparation, but not the funds or other opportunities.

It was also integrated by a small number of black (Negro) students as a result of the “colored” teachers’ college, Stowe Teachers College, being closed when integration began.

The number of enrolled Negro students was small, though it was growing by the time I graduated in 1966.

Starting out at one location in my freshman year, the college moved to a new campus during my sophomore year. Bigger, better and still just a bus-ride away from my home, since Harris Teachers College was a “commuter school.”

Most faculty were cordial and supportive, some were hostile and had low expectations of “Negro” students.

Most of us were determined to support each other and prove the skeptics wrong.  Among the black Greek letter organization members, we took pride in academic accomplishment and enjoyed friendly competition among ourselves for bragging rights. The Omega’s (Ques - my fraternity) and Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA’s) were always vying for that academic honor which proved important in lifting every organization.  Eventually, among all Greek letter groups, white and black, The AKA’s and Ques consistently inched their way to the top of the academic performance honor roll.

The men of Omega Psi Phi were prominent in leadership roles in student government, school sponsored musical contests and community outreach.

Though I am delighted that Harris-Stowe State University attained HBCU status in 1987 based on the current demographics and enrollment pattern seen today, it stills seems kind of strange based on the predominant faces and hues I experienced while a student at Harris Teachers College, aka, HTC.

My prediction of HTC being my academic and career launching pad was accurate as today, I serve as dean of multicultural medical student affairs at Emory University School of Medicine. I am now in my 21st year here after serving in a similar role at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis for 22 years.