At the age of 17, William Henry Shepperson was accepted to Tuscaloosa Institute (now known as Stillman College) as a Divinity Student. He got along fine at the school until he began to preach his practice sermons at a nearby church in the community.
For Shepperson, one of the messages of Christianity was black equality and empowerment. During one of his sermons, Shepperson advised the freed slaves to stop working for the white people for nothing and try to accumulate something for themselves, such as land, homes, and education. “Rise up. You’re free men. Be men.” An ex-slave owner was in the audience that day and he didn’t enjoy the message.
The next morning, the President of Tuscaloosa, Dr. Charles Allen Stillman, sent for Shepperson to come to his office. When he arrived, the ex-slave owner was there and demanded that Shepperson apologize to him for the sermon. Being the proud and confident person that he was, Shepperson told the President that he had no apology and he believed strongly in his sermon’s message. Although he had grown up against the backdrop of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, Shepperson was more than willing to stand up and insist that he was the equal of any man.
After refusing to apologize, Dr. Stillman told Shepperson, “You’ll have to leave school.” Without hestitation, Shepperson gathered his belongings and left Tuscaloosa Institute that same afternoon.
Although Dr. Stillman expelled Shepperson, he could not deny the young man’s academic ability. He was very smart. So he arranged for Shepperson to attend Biddle University, now known as Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC . Four years later, in 1887, William Henry Shepperson graduated from Biddle University with honors and went on to become an ordained minister.
117 years later, I, William Henry Shepperson’s Great Great Granddaughter, received her Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honors from Johnson C. Smith University as well.
Today, Johnson C. Smith University celebrates 153 years of greatness. I am celebrating my beloved University and all of the alumni that stood firm in their beliefs and paved the way for me to be where I am today, like my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Shepperson, Sr.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHNSON C. SMITH UNIVERSITY!