Lafayette College Honors Its First Black Graduate

This Saturday Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, will dedicate a new 16-foot sculpture on the north side of its campus library. The four-ton sculpture titled “Transcendence” is dedicated to David Kearney McDonogh, the college’s first black graduate. The work was created by internationally renowned sculptor Melvin Edwards.

McDonogh received a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College in 1844. He is thought to be the only black American slave to earn a college degree while still in bondage. His owner, a planter from Louisiana, sent McDonogh to Lafayette College to train him for the ministry and for repatriation to the African nation of Liberia.

After graduating from Lafayette, McDonogh went to New York City where he served as an apprentice to a white physician at New York Hospital and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. His master, a generally benevolent man for his time who allowed all his slaves to work to buy their freedom, made no attempt under threat of force to bring McDonogh back to Louisiana. Although he received no formal training, McDonogh opened a medical practice in Manhattan and served black and white patients for more than 40 years. He died in 1893 at the age of 72.

It would be more than a century after McDonogh earned his degree before another African American graduated from Lafayette College.