RALEIGH -- Shaw University gave students from as far back as the 1800's a chance to build a better life through education. The year was 1865, the Civil War had ended and newly freed slaves were looking to build a better life.
"In order to solidify that freedom, you had to have an education. That [gave] them the confidence to help them realize that freedom," said Ahmed Tejan-Cole, a history professor at Shaw University.
The vision started with Dr. Henry Martin Tupper who used theology to teach the freedmen to read.
"Tupper believed through religion and teaching, he would be able to uplift Africans who had been recently emancipated from slavery," added Tejan-Cole.
Shaw University was known for many firsts. It was the first Historically Black College and University in the South, the first four-year medical school and the first women's dorm in the nation.
"It's always been a foundation place for the jumping off of other things," said graduate Maria Spaulding.
About 100 years after Shaw held its first class, Maria Spaulding started hers.
"She just took me by the hand and said, 'we're going to Raleigh,'" added Spaulding.
It was 1968, the middle of the civil rights movement. Maria was a high school senior from Chatham County when her guidance counselor brought her to Shaw.
"That's the way many of us were lead and that's how many of us were able to develop professionally. People took an interest in us as individuals," Spaulding said.
Maria went on to become the first college graduate in her immediate family, made life long friends and left with an education that opened doors.
"It's a place to find your niche, to gain your confidence among your own people," said Spaulding.
Today, that legacy continues with students like Matthew Coleman. Through his involvement with yearbook and documentaries, he shares the decades of sacrifice the school endured.
"Legacy, when you walk on the grounds you feel that historic feeling that you're a part of that history," said junior Matthew Coleman.
Shaw University has been called the mother of African-American colleges in North Carolina because several HBCU's in the state were also founded by Shaw graduates.