In 2018 Chadwick Boseman, the star of the Marvel movie Black Panther, delivered a commencement address at Howard University, which he said he had also heard called “Wakanda University,” a reference to the superhero’s African homeland. In his speech the Howard alum credited his education at the historically Black school with instilling in him the standards to steer clear of acting roles that perpetuated negative stereotypes. “I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa,” the Class of 2000 member told a new generation of students.

Thurgood Marshall deserves special notice on that list of Boseman’s roles because the former U.S. Supreme Court justice was also a fellow Howard alum. He is among the many notable names on a list of graduates that includes Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and U.S Vice President Kamala Harris. In her memoir The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, Harris said that going to Howard was so significant for her because “Every signal told students we could be anything.”

LIFE magazine’s photo essay on Howard University in 1946 captured the very thing Harris talked about—the sense that the students there could do anything. In its Nov. 18, 1946 issue, LIFE took its readers on a tour of of the Washington D.C. campus, which it hailed as “America’s center of Negro learning.”

Documenting the world of Howard was legendary LIFE staff photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. His photos are wide-ranging, showing students in the classroom, in athletic competition and at leisure, sporting the latest fashions. Eisenstaedt paid special attention to the medical school, which the story touted as a jewel of the university and which remains a highly respected program today. He also showed a meeting of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority that Vice President Harris would pledge to in the 1980s, when she was a student.

Howard, founded in 1867, after the end of the Civil War, is named after Oliver O. Howard, a white Union general and proponent of Black education who served as the school’s’ first president.

LIFE concluded its story about Howard by saying that the school’s greatest assets were “its 12,400 alumni, who have installed themselves in positions of authority and respect throughout the nation.” If it was the case in 1946, it is even more true today, as Howard’s trailblazing graduates continue to change the world.

Howard University medical students observed a gall-bladder operation in the amphitheater of Freedman’s Hospital, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Howard University medical students observed a gall-bladder operation in the amphitheater of Freedman’s Hospital, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Charles Drew, head of the surgery department at Howard’s medical school, organized and directed the first blood bank for the American Red Cross.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Students filled prescriptions in the pharmacy school at Howard University, 1946

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Sophmores worked in a laboratory in the pharmacy school at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Drama students at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Students in the library reading room at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Instructor Gloria Hixon conducted a zoology class at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Alain Leroy Locke, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, taught philosophy at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, the first Black president of Howard, in his office in 1946, when he had been at the job for 20 years.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Sophmore Bill Tolea (center) and other members of the Howard University football team, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A scene from a football game between Howard University and Shaw College. 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A scene from a parade during football game between Howard University and Shaw College, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Fans at a Howard University football game, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A women’s golf practice at Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Howard University students at a luncheonette off campus, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Howard University students, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Two female students, one in trousers and a coat and the other in pleated skirt and sweater, on the campus of Howard University, Washington DC, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Howard University students, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A meeting of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Howard University in 1946; Vice President Kamala Harris pledged that sorority when she was a student at Howard in the 1980s.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Students on campus of Howard University, 1946.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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