Scholarship Honors Teacher and Civil Rights Activist

Dr. Herbert Shapiro’s lectures on African-American history were so popular, students visited his North Avondale home to hear them.

Herbert ShapiroHis wife, Judy, who would provide refreshments, says students still remember where they sat in the Shapiro’s living room.

Shapiro’s lectures were riveting—maybe because the University of Cincinnati professor of American history had first-hand experience with the country’s civil rights movement.

“He wasn’t just talking about things he had read, but things he had experienced,” Judy says. “We had experienced them—we had lived in the south, experienced desegregation, we had participated in the Civil Rights movement.”

Herbert and Judy ShapiroThe Shapiros knew Martin Luther King Jr., and Dr. Shapiro participated in the historic protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  They returned to Atlanta to attend Dr. King’s funeral after his assassination.

“I’ll never forget that funeral,” Judy says from her North Avondale living room. “It’s hard for me to talk about, it’s still very emotional for me.”

Dr. Shapiro brought his passion for democracy, freedom and civil rights into his UC classroom where he was a vibrant figure for 35 years. He taught at UC from 1965 to his 2001 retirement. 

The teacher and activist passed away in 2012, at the age of 83.

To preserve his memory, The Herbert Shapiro Scholarship in African-American History will support graduate students in UC’s Department of History. Judy Shapiro provided a generous gift to seed the fund and additional gifts endowed the scholarship—meaning it will live on in perpetuity.

“He had been so devoted to UC and the history department, and to the faculty and his students, I wanted him to be remembered,” Judy says.

The first scholarship will be awarded for fall 2017. Applicants must have maintained a 3.0 GPA and submit an application explaining their research interests focusing on the struggle for freedom, justice and equality for African-Americans in the United States. 

“The idea of African-American history at UC was a product of Herb Shapiro’s personal and professional commitment to it, although it was only emerging as a subtopic of American history in the 1960s,” says Christopher Phillips, UC Department of History professor and chair. “We can thank Herb as a pioneer and a visionary, whose legacy is now recognized by the scholarship that bears his name.”

Not only do former students remember where they sat, some remember specific lectures.

“There was one lecture, when neither I nor his other students were given the chance to engage in dialogue: his recitation of the horrors of lynching in the South and its role in enforcing Jim Crow, which in those days was not even a decade in our nation’s past,” says Merrill Goozner, a journalist, editor and professor at New York University. “I still have a mental image of him pausing at the end of a sentence and pointing his finger in the air as he made an observation about the role of terrorism in denying African Americans their rights. The room was silent. Most of the students sat silently with heads tilted down, perhaps feeling the same shame I felt at that moment. At the end of the lecture, we filed silently out of the room.”

When he passed away, Judy said she received countless “beautiful letters” from former students sharing the many ways Dr. Shapiro influenced their lives and careers.

No wonder they remember where they sat in his living room.

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