JULY 31, 1874
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.