JULY 31, 1874

Credit: The Library of Congress

Patrick F. Healy was inaugurated as president of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Healy was the first African American to become president of a predominantly white university. 

In 1834, he was born into slavery in Macon, Georgia, the son of a slave owner and an African-American woman named Mary Eliza Smith, who became the owner’s common-law wife. He fought discrimination as an elementary school student, both for his African-American and Irish Catholic roots. 

In 1850, he became the first African American to enter the Jesuit order and, eight years later, was sent to Europe to study, earning a doctorate at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. 

In a letter, he referred to the racist remarks, “which wound my heart. You know to what I refer.” 

After the Civil War ended, he returned to the U.S. and taught philosophy at Georgetown before becoming president. He helped transform the small college into a major university, upgrading the law school and modernizing the sciences. His influence became so profound that many refer to him as the institution’s “second founder.” He was buried in the Jesuit cemetery on the university grounds, and Georgetown’s Alumni Association now has an award in his name.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.