This weekend, media icon Cathy Hughes will officially be the new namesake of the Howard University School of Communications, a building that once provided medical treatment to former slaves.
Even before the building located at 6th and Bryant Street in Northwest became the John H. Johnson School of Communications in 2003, it operated as a hospital for newly freedmen during the Reconstruction period.
Into the 20th century, the Freedmen’s Hospital served as a vital resource for the District’s African-American community as residents’ trusted source for medical care.
Founded in 1862, the hospital gained distinction as the first medical institution in the country that specifically catered to freed people of color.
In 1863, Dr. Alexander Augusta became the first Black hospital administrator in the United States when he took charge of the institution that was also used as a teaching hospital for the university’s medical school.
In 1967, the federal government granted control of the hospital to Howard University. It operated from then on under new leadership until finally closing in 1975.
Soon after, its replacement, Howard University Hospital, emerged on Georgia Avenue, the old home of Griffith Stadium where the Washington Redskins once played football.
In 1982, the university’s School of Communications moved to the renovated C.B. Powell Building, formerly the Freedmen’s Hospital, where it currently remains.
After much controversy surrounding Howard University quietly dropping John H. Johnson as its School of Communications namesake a few years ago, it recently reemerged with a $4 million gift, courtesy of the Catherine L. Hughes and Alfred C. Liggins III Foundation.
The mother-son duo stepped up to turn the school in a new direction with assisting in acquiring cutting-edge technology and equipment.
“The Howard community is thrilled that Mr. Liggins has chosen to honor his mother, Ms. Cathy Hughes, in this manner for her pioneering work in the field of communications,” said Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University.
In an official ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 23 during the university’s homecoming, Hughes, a former assistant to the School of Communications founding dean Tony Brown and founder of Radio One, will come full-circle to where her career as a media maven started.
“This gift will have a transformational impact on the school’s commitment to serve the communications industry as a high-level producer of diverse media specialists,” Frederick said.