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 Table of Contents  
SURGICAL HERITAGE
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 23-30

History of pioneer black surgeons in American medicine – Part 2


1 Department of Surgery, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA
2 Surgical Health Collective, Atlanta, GA, USA
3 Dr. Joe Nwiloh Heart Center, St. Joseph's Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu, Anambra State, Nigeria

Date of Web Publication15-Apr-2019

Correspondence Address:
Jonathan Nwiloh
Dr. Joe Nwiloh Heart Center, St. Joseph's Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu, Anambra State
Nigeria
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/njct.njct_3_19

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  Abstract 


Little information was acknowledged by the American medical establishment on the contributions of Black Americans to medicine in the United States till after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. This review is an attempt to recount some of the small corps of Black surgeons' trailblazers who helped establish the black identity in American surgery, thereby paving the way for succeeding generations.

Keywords: American medicine, Black surgeons, pioneers


How to cite this article:
Lee AB, Walker M, Nwiloh J. History of pioneer black surgeons in American medicine – Part 2. Niger J Cardiovasc Thorac Surg 2018;3:23-30

How to cite this URL:
Lee AB, Walker M, Nwiloh J. History of pioneer black surgeons in American medicine – Part 2. Niger J Cardiovasc Thorac Surg [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Sep 18];3:23-30. Available from: http://www.nigjourcvtsurg.org/text.asp?2018/3/2/23/256253




  Introduction Top


This review is a continuation of the gallery of Black American surgeons practicing in different parts of the US, who through individual and collective struggles helped break down barriers of the prevailing racial prejudices in medicine after emancipation from slavery. Their courage and perseverance against overwhelming odds gradually changed public and medical opinions, ultimately resulting in the integration of Blacks to the mainstream of American medicine.


  Gallery of Black Surgeons Top


Washington, D.C.

Dr. Austin Maurice Curtis 1868–1939

Dr. Curtis was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 15, 1868. He graduated with AB degree from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1888. After obtaining his MD from Northwestern University in 1891, the same year Provident Hospital was founded, he was appointed the first intern by Dr. Daniel Williams his fellow alumnus. He was then appointed to the staff of Provident Hospital on completion of his internship and subsequently in 1896 by dint of hard work appointed to the surgical staff of the Cook County Hospital, a memorable first for the Black medical world. Its significance can be appreciated when a comparable prestigious institution in New York, Bellevue Hospital, did not appoint a Negro attending surgeon until well after the Second World War, and even, Harlem Hospital in the heart of New York's Black community did not appoint a Negro attending surgeon until 1925 and then only under enormous political pressure. Dr. Curtis subsequently was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief of Freedmen's Hospital in the wake of Dr. Williams departure occasioned by controversies. Dr. Curtis was later forced out after 3 years by his assistant with trumped-up charges similar to those used against Dr. Williams. Dr. Curtis remained in Washington, D.C. in private practice and kept his faculty association with Howard Medical School. He served as professor of abdominal surgery and finally in 1928 became the first Negro chairman of the department of surgery.[1],[2]

Dr. Simeon Lewis Carson 1882–1954

Dr. Carson was born on January 16, 1882, in Marion, North Carolina. His family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he was 5 years old in the hope of greater freedom and better work opportunities. He received his basic education at the public schools in Ann Arbor and then enrolled in the medical school of University of Michigan, graduating in 1903 with superlative scholastic records. Every now and then, someone comes along with an indigenous talent that transcends formal training and catapults him to the heights. Dr. Carson was such a man. After graduation, due to health reasons, he gained appointment as a government physician to the Indian reservation at Brule, South Dakota. In that Spartan setting all alone, literally starting from scratch, he began his development into a surgeon. Initially, it loomed as an improbable task to be achieved solely on his own, but in time with diligence, voracious study, a superior intellect, and indigenous talent, he accomplished the impossible. After spending 5 years in the Indian reservation and amassing an amazing experience in operative surgery, he took up an appointment as Assistant Surgeon-in-Chief at Freedmen's Hospital in 1908. Working under better conditions, with improved facilities and trained assistants, his unique operative talent came to full bloom with a display of operative legerdemain. In 1910, his reputation and a curiosity to see the Negro legend at work prompted White Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C. to open its doors to Dr. Carson. In 1918, he relinquished his post at Freedmen's Hospital to devote himself exclusively to private practice and established Carson's Hospital in 1919. He operated on patients from all over the country and from all walks of life and levels of society, and the hospital was considered a miniature Mayo Clinic for Negros. The hospital closed in 1938 when he went into semi-retirement maintaining a limited office practice and occasional operation. Dr. Carson who can be considered extraordinary for his period and probably the last of the old guard of pioneers died of cancer in George Washington University Hospital on September 8, 1954.[3],[4]

Dr. Charles Richard Drew 1904–1950

Dr. Drew was born on June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He first displayed his superior athletic ability in elementary school by excelling in all sports. At Dunbar High School graduation, he was voted the best athlete and student who had done the most for his alma mater. With these encomiums, he also received a scholarship to Amherst where he achieved celebrity for his athletic prowess in track and field and football in which he starred as both half-back and quarterback. On graduation in 1926, he was awarded the Howard Hill Mossman Trophy as the student who had contributed most to Amherst athletics during his college years. Much to his chagrin after his application to Howard University Medical School was rejected for the improbable reason that he had only 6 h of English, as against the required 8 h, he applied and was accepted to McGill University Medical College in Montreal, Canada. There he met and developed a friendship with a young English doctor on the faculty, John Beattie, who was destined to play an important role in Drew's future. He graduated in 1933 as one of the top three men of his class with the degree of Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery. He served an internship in the Montreal General Hospital (1933–1934) and as a resident in surgery (1934–1935). After his father's sudden death in 1935, he accepted a position as an instructor in pathology at Howard University Medical School (1935–1936). Following securing an approval from AMA's Council of Medical Education and Hospitals for the establishment of a surgical residency program at Howard in 1936, Dr. Drew was appointed as a surgical resident and an assistant in surgery on the medical faculty (1936–1937). In 1937–1938, he was appointed an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. Upon high recommendation by Dr. Edward L. Howes, professor of surgery and chairman of the department, he was awarded a 2-year Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. After a careful review of his credentials and personal interview, Dr. Allen O. Whipple, the professor and chairman of the department of surgery, and Dr. John Scudder, the chief of the surgical research unit, agreed to accept him. Although originally his work at Columbia was to include some operative activity as a resident surgeon, Dr. Scudder was so delighted with Dr. Drew's intellectual vigor and organizational ability that he asked Dr. Whipple for a monopoly of his time for research. Consequently, Dr. Drew's surgical activity was reduced to a minimum and ultimately ended so that his concentration on research soon became absolute. He was assigned the task of finding solution to the problem of storing blood. It was a perplexing challenge that involved resolution of the dangers and disadvantages of stored blood, the investigation of blood preservatives, the chemical changes that occurred in stored blood, etc., Dr. Drew applied himself unremittingly to his research, and in due time, both he and Dr. Scudder concluded that they had acquired sufficient data to create a blood bank at Presbyterian Hospital. Incidental to his research activity, Dr. Drew received Dr. Whipple's approval to take the American Board of Surgery examination and also his sanction to seek a doctorate in science from Columbia for a doctoral thesis on “banked blood.” This thesis on its completion was a comprehensive scientific document which was praised by both Dr. Whipple and Dr. Scudder as a monumental contribution. Dr. Drew thus became the first Negro physician in the United States (US) to have earned the degree of Doctor of Medical Science through original research. Recognition that the biggest stumbling block in the prolonged storage of blood was the chemical breakdown of the red cells stimulated Dr. Drew to a special interest in plasma, the fluid part of the blood free of cells. With the war clouds threatening, the Blood Transfusion Association made funds available to Presbyterian Hospital for laboratory and clinical studies relating to the preservation of plasma and its use as an emergency blood substitute, particularly in the treatment of shock resulting from blood loss. In the spring of 1940 at a special and strictly top-level meeting under the aegis of the Blood Transfusion Association, Dr. Drew was asked to present his work on blood plasma and the possibilities of its use in France then at war with Germany. Present at the meeting were two Nobel Laureates Dr. Alexis Carrell who had been awarded the prize in 1912 for his work in blood vessel surgery and Dr. Karl Landsteiner winner in 1930 for his work in blood grouping. Dr. Scudder introduced Dr. Drew as the current authority on plasma research. Dr. Drew made a convincing argument for the value of plasma for emergency use and all present favored its use and recommended the establishment of a “Plasma for France” project. Unfortunately, with the lightning advance of the German Army, Paris fell in June of 1940 and the project collapsed. The war then progressed to the point where the British were driven back to the beaches of Dunkirk, from where they made the heroic evacuation of their troops across the Strait of Dover. In the wake of this disaster, England then came under the vicious blows of the German Luftwaffe with the bombing of its cities taking a tremendous toll of victims. Catastrophe threatened and the British needed all the aids that could be given. Again the hand of fate in Dr. Drew's career at this time of crisis as the head of the Royal Air Force Transfusion Service was his old friend and teacher from McGill Dr. Beattie. Beattie stressing the gravity of the situation told his group that the major problem they faced in the management of increasing mass casualties was the immediate treatment of shock, invariably from blood loss. Immediate blood replacement for sundry reasons was both impractical and impossible. He was confident that the answer lay in the use of plasma, and while acknowledging that though bacterial contamination in the processing of plasma had thus far discouraged its use, that the problem was not insurmountable. He suggested they sought help from America, where the most competent work in the field had been carried out by Dr. Charles Drew, a close friend of his McGill days. He also pointed out that because he was a Negro, it might present a problem in the US. He suggested, however, that they direct their request to the Blood Transfusion Association asking for Dr. Drew as the man best suited for the task. In the crisis that existed, Beattie could not conceive of race being interposed as a block to such international cooperation. The request was subsequently granted and Dr. Drew took a leave of absence from Howard and returned to Presbyterian Hospital, and with the help of Columbia's renowned surgical bacteriologist, Dr. Frank Meleney found a solution to the plasma bacterial contamination problem. In a relatively short time, all shipments of plasma proved to be free of bacterial contamination and the success of the project for Britain assured, which saved countless lives in World War II. It was a triumph for Dr. Drew that gave him an illustrious and permanent place in Medicine's Hall of Fame. The British heaped upon the Blood Transfusion Association expressions of everlasting gratitude. Dr. Drew then prepared a documentary report for the association that became the authoritative source for reference on the subject. From the association, Dr. Drew received unstinted praise, and his prestige was at flood tide-Negro or not, he could not be ignored. The American Red Cross asked that the association sets up a nationwide program for America to be carried out quickly, with the bleeding of 100,000 donors for the benefit of the Armed Forces. Dr. Drew was placed in charge of New York and was appointed in 1941, the Medical Director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank at Presbyterian Hospital and Assistant Director of the blood procurement for the National Research Council in charge of blood for the US Army and Navy. Just as the program started to roll, an afterthought was conveyed to the Red Cross by the Armed Forces to the effect that only Caucasian blood would be acceptable. It was implied that if White and Negro donors were used, the blood should be so labeled and segregated. Dissident sentiment from important quarters questioned the advisability of a Negro heading the program when it matured to national scope. What Dr. Beattie had intimated to his associates concerning the subtle but ever-present racism in America was clearly manifest. Dr. Drew realized with sorrow how powerless he was as a Negro when America could appropriate his contributions and still accord his presence disdain and indignity. He called a press conference to comment on the situation and gave the following statement: “I am speaking to you today, not as a Negro, but as a scientist and director of the Red Cross Blood Bank Program. I will not give you an opinion. I will give you scientific facts on the matter. The blood of individual human beings may differ by blood groupings, but there is absolutely no scientific basis to indicate any difference according to race.” His statement was endorsed by reputable scientific journals including the Journal of the American Medical Association which at that time by reason of a long history of racial bias startled many Negroes by its stand. A few weeks later, Dr. Drew resigned quietly avoiding further controversy. Under the circumstances, his occupancy of the directorship of the blood program had become untenable. Despite the urgency of appeals for blood donors during the war years and faced with the challenge for massive collection of blood to save the lives of men in the Armed Forces, the Red Cross supinely acceded to the order for the segregation of blood. Dr. Drew returned to Howard University in 1941 with the realization that in America, race is a transcendent consideration and that there are limits beyond which the most eminent Negro is unlikely to go in the White establishment. He was promoted professor of surgery and chairman of the department, and was also named an examiner for the American Board of Surgery, a post which he held at the time of his death. He was appointed Chief of Staff at Freedmen's Hospital in 1944 and then Medical Director. His organizational ability and administrative talent were used in restructure and expansion of the programs in both the medical school and the hospital. He secured grants and fellowships for his young men as never before, and through his efforts and those of his colleagues, the prestige of the medical school and hospital soared.[5],[6],[7],[8]

Nashville, Tennessee

Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd 1858–1912

Dr. Boyd was born into slavery on July 8, 1858, in Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee. At a very early age, he joined his enslaved parents in working on the farm, continuing this onerous labor throughout his youth. For the freed slave, more than often adversity was a sequel to the Civil War. For young Boyd, however, the postwar period brought an invaluable premium, the opportunity for education that had been denied his parents. He embraced it fully getting his schooling at great sacrifice since he had to continue working to survive. He completed his elementary education in the Black public schools of Pulaski, and then ultimately attaining his first significant milestone, graduation from the Central Tennessee College and Fisk University. In 1876, Boyd began to teach in the Negro public schools in Pulaski, in addition to doing other odd jobs trying to raise money to further his education. Finally, after acquiring a modest nest egg, he entered Meharry Medical College which had opened in 1876 as a unit of the Central Tennessee College, solely for the education of Black doctors to look after the urgent health needs of the masses of their race in the South. Since he was self-supporting, the diligent young man continued to work throughout his medical school career and graduated with honors with a medical degree in 1882. Not yet content, he undertook further studies at Meharry and in 1887 received a diploma in dentistry and a certificate in pharmacy. In 1887, he opened an office for the practice of medicine in Nashville, the first Negro to do so in that city. With his drive and personality, his success was meteoric. Still restless, as soon as his finances permitted, Dr. Boyd took a temporary leave of absence to pursue postgraduate study in the disease of women and children at the Postgraduate Medical School and Hospital in Chicago. While in Chicago, he also had the good fortune to meet Dr. Dan Williams and observe operations at Provident Hospital. On completing his training, he resumed his practice in Nashville and also became an assistant to a White surgeon, a specialist in the eye, ear, nose, and throat. Dr. Boyd became anchored at the Meharry Medical College, gradually involving himself in all of its affairs, and fated ultimately to play a significant role in its destiny. At various times in his academic life, Dr. Boyd was called upon to fill the chairs of anatomy, physiology, hygiene, chemical medicine, gynecology, and surgery, and to all of them, he contributed a commendable degree of scholarship and clinical ability. In this incipient period of the school's development, this versatility made him the indispensable man of the small faculty and in due time the staunchest pillar of the school. With urging from Dr. Dan Williams during his annual surgical clinics at Meharry, Dr. Boyd eventually established Nashville's first Negro Hospital, the Mercy Hospital in 1900. He subsequently made it available to Meharry as a teaching facility and the college. Foreseeing the future growth of Meharry, Dr. Boyd proposed the construction of a large modern hospital to meet the requirements of an expanding medical school, suggesting that it be named the George W. Hubbard Hospital, in honor of its venerated president. In 1895 at a meeting of the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta with a small but representative group of Negro professionals from many sections of the country, the National Medical Association came into being. Dr. Boyd occupied its presidency for the first 3 years. This farm boy gifted with initiative, an indomitable will, and an inordinate capacity for work, literally overcame insurmountable obstacles, pulling himself by his own bootstraps to become one of the outstanding Black physicians of his day and by all reports the wealthiest. He gained recognition as the premier Black surgeon of the Deep South and achieved the rank of Professor of Surgery at Meharry Medical College. He remains one of the pioneers in Negro medical education and surgery, one of Meharry's greatest sons, who waged his battles in the South to triumph over the adversities of race and circumstance and to make an enormous contribution to the welfare of his people. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Boyd was an entrepreneur with extensive real estate holdings and business. He also became a bank president and seeking political power with one major thrust, he ran for the mayor of Nashville, but without success. By temperament and also by the exigencies of leadership which he could not escape, his was a high-powered existence with the potential for a “crise de coeur” which unfortunately felled him in July 1912.[9],[10],[11]

Dr. John Henry Hale 1878–1944

Dr. Hale was born on June 5, 1878, at Estill Springs, Tennessee. After a sound education in the area elementary and secondary schools, he continued his education at Walden University, formerly Central Tennessee College, and graduated with AB degree in 1901. He then entered the Meharry Medical College, from which he graduated with honors in 1905 receiving the MD degree. During his undergraduate years, his regular attendance at the Meharry annual surgical clinics, Dr. Dan Williams had fired an ambition for a surgical career which he was quietly determined to fulfill. He entered general practice after graduation and also procured a faculty appointment as an instructor in histology, a post he held until 1911. During this period of professional growth, Dr. Hale made a fortunate association with Dr. John T. Wilson, a Meharry graduate of 1895, who was a founder of one of the early hospitals in the South. A busy and successful surgeon, Dr. Wilson, had a reputation as a brilliant and dexterous operator, and Dr. Hale came to maturation empirically trained by observing, by assisting, and by doing. Ultimately, he became a superb surgical craftsman and was credited with performing over 30,000 operations during his professional career. In the medical school, he made steady progress on the faculty becoming Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery of Meharry Medical College and Chief of Staff of the George W. Hubbard Hospital, positions he held up to his death in 1944 from a heart attack.[12]

Tuskegee, Alabama

Dr. Andrew Kenney 1874–1950

Dr. Kenney was born on June 11, 1874, in Albemarle County, Virginia. He received his education at the Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, and graduated as the valedictorian of his class in 1897. He then attended the Leonard Medical School of Shaw University (one of the half dozen Negro medical schools that sprung up in the South during the postreconstruction era), receiving his MD in 1901. After internship at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., Dr. Kenney accepted the invitation of Booker T. Washington the most influential Negro of his time, to fill the post of resident physician and superintendent of the Tuskegee Institute Hospital and Nurse Training School. Under the benevolent aegis of Booker T. Washington, he developed the hospital within years to become a renowned institution for the overall health care of Negroes in the Deep South and a clinic for consultation and the continuing education of the Black doctor. Dr. Kenney from the beginning of his career was involved in the affairs of the National Medical Association and served as secretary from 1904 to 1912. Profoundly interested in encouraging Negroes to contribute to the medical literature, he proposed the publication of a journal in 1909. He served as the first Associate Editor and Business Manager of the Journal of the National Medical Association and Editor-in-Chief from 1916 to 1948. Although his professional labors were carried on within the segregated enclave of Tuskegee Institute, he still did not escape an eventual clash with the forces of bigotry. In 1922, he clashed with the Ku Klux Klan over whether a Black or White professional staff should run the newly constructed Government Veterans Hospital on the grounds of the Institute for Negroes of World War 1. His inflexible stand let to violent reaction from the Klan with burning of fiery crosses on the grounds of the institute and in front of Dr. Kenney's residence. Warned that his life was in danger, he and his family moved to New Jersey. Finding it difficult to secure a hospital affiliation in that city because of race, Dr. Kenney subsequently acquired funds to build a 30-bed hospital in Newark, the Kenney Memorial Hospital. There he pursued an active surgical practice and opened the doors to qualified men and gave training to many others. In 1934, Dr. Kenney presented the hospital as a Christmas gift to the Negro community of Newark, renaming it the Newark Community Hospital. Dr. Kenney was the medical counterpart of Booker T. Washington, whose ideology and ideals he shared and whom he served faithfully. Only one other man had great influence on the life and career of Dr. Kenney and that was Dr. Daniel Williams whom he revered as a surgical mentor and considered the patriarch of Negro surgeons. He died on January 29, 1950.[13]

Eugene Heriot Dibble, Jr. 1893–1969

Dr. Dibble, Jr. was born in Camden, South Carolina, in 1893. He received his BA from Atlanta University in 1915 and MD from Howard University in 1919. After his internship at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., he turned his eyes toward the Deep South and embarked on a surgical residency at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital at Tuskegee under that dedicated protégé of Booker T. Washington, Dr. John A. Kenney. At the conclusion of the residency, he accepted an appointment as assistant director of the hospital. This was the beginning of a career that anchored him for the remainder of his life in the terrain of Tuskegee Institute. In 1923, he was chosen as Surgeon-in-Chief of the Veterans Administration Hospital at Tuskegee, with the military rank of Colonel. Appointed a member of the Dean's Committee for the Veterans Hospital, which involved the University of Alabama and Emory University of Georgia, Dr. Dibble was active in its affair during the remainder of his career. Dr. Dibble assumed the leadership of the John A. Andrew Clinical Society and fashioned his clinics into a scientific assembly at par with the best, presenting outstanding authorities from all parts of the country. He became the guardian of Tuskegee's legacy of service and medical education. On his retirement in 1965, he had indeed kept the faith and left his mark as a surgeon, teacher, and skilled administrator. Booker Taliaferro Washington brought Tuskegee Institute from its parochial beginnings into the national spotlight by an articulate and skillful leadership. Dr. Dibble, a more modest and self-effacing personality, transformed a clinic which started as an humble local effort into an annual event that was host to some of the great leaders of American medicine, who deemed it an honor to participate. In a career that was consistently constructive, this was unquestionably his major achievement. Although Dr. Dibble preferred anonymity to celebrity, he could not always escape the accolades of his colleagues who insisted on formal recognition of his achievements and contributions. He was the very last of the Old Guard, a brigade from the past to the present but, while looking to the future, he was reverentially symbolic of a past that was rich in human and spiritual values.[14]

New Orleans, Louisiana

Rivers Frederick 1873–1954

Dr. Frederick was born in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, in 1873. He received his early education in the Black schools of New Orleans, eventually attending New Orleans University from which he graduated with distinction in 1892. He obtained his MD degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1897. Although he did not obtain an internship on graduation, he had the good fortune to secure an appointment for 2 years in the clinic of the famed Chicago surgeon Dr. John B. Murphy. Murphy, a driving, dynamic man under whom Dr. Dan Williams served at Cook County Hospital, was one of the authentic titans of American surgery in that period. He was a confrere and contemporary of Senn and Fenger in Chicago, Halsted at John Hopkins in Baltimore, Reginald Fitz in Boston, and McBurney and Bull in New York – all of them participants in the evolving Golden Age of surgery in America. Murphy had been the original and unrelenting protagonist in 1889 of early operation for appendicitis, a stand that was vigorously opposed at that time, but that ultimately gained universal acceptance. In the rich environment of the Chicago of that period, Dr. Frederick was totally intrigued with surgery and embarked on a program of hard work and endless study to get the maximum out of his opportunities and at the end of his 2 years returned to New Orleans to open his practice. Transcending the racial barriers of the city which then nurtured deeply entrenched southern sentiments, Dr. Frederick moved with resolution and dignity within his own sphere to become one of its most highly respected and proficient surgeons and a tremendous asset to his group. His was a career of bountiful service over more than five decades and one particularly noteworthy for his devotion to the training of scores of Black doctors in surgery at his base of operations, the Flint-Goodridge Hospital of Dillard University. His long life which ended on September 9, 1954, was productive almost to the end and a record of achievement and service and great dignity.[15],[16]

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Nathan Francis Mossell 1856–1946

Dr. Mossell was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on July 27, 1856, where his parents both freeborn Negroes from Baltimore had escaped to in hopes of raising their children in an atmosphere of freedom and racial tolerance. Because of disappointment in achieving economic betterment in Hamilton, the family returned to the US at the end of the Civil War. He obtained AB degree in 1879 and MA in 1884 both from Lincoln University. After he decided to pursue a career in medicine, he wanted to attend the best school which to him was University of Pennsylvania the oldest medical school in the country. That school had, however, not yet opened its doors to a Black applicant. In the 1850s, the one colored member of the original Howard University faculty, Major Alexander T. Augusta, had contemplated entry but had not been permitted even to apply. Undaunted by the racial bigotry, Mossell applied for admission. The surprising result of his interview with the Dean, Dr. James Tyson, was the decision to admit. “We have a greater medical school than Harvard and Yale, and they have admitted Negroes, so we will.” Initially, he had a difficult time because of vituperation of some fellow students, but finding the granite-like Mossell totally impervious to their most vicious thrusts and with gradual emergence of sympathy for the underdog on the part of a few, the antagonism eventually died down. Dr. Mossell finished in the upper fourth of his class. Two events in his later life echoed the academic past and appear as tributes to the man and a measure of the university's esteem. When the University of Pennsylvania celebrated its 200th anniversary, Dr. Mossell carried the colors of his class as the sole survivor of the class of 1882. Today, a chair with an engraved nameplate bears his name in the auditorium of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. After graduation, he pursued postgraduate studies at the Philadelphia Polyclinic, now the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. He then became the first colored member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society, and through this, membership in the American Medical Association, a privilege denied at that time to the vast majority of Black doctors. Still bent on adding to his professional knowledge and increasing his skills, Dr. Mossell departed for London shortly thereafter to undertake postgraduate study in surgery at Queens College, St Thomas and Guy's Hospital. On his return, Dr. Mossell brought together a small group of doctors and laymen and proposed the establishment of a hospital to serve the Black community – both patients and doctors who were denied admission to White hospitals. These plans came to fruition with the opening on October 31, 1895, of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses, with Dr. Mossell as Chief of Staff and Attending Surgeon. In his long professional span, this superb clinician and medical scholar par excellence trained scores of physicians and surgeons and instructed an estimated 400 nurses. A co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences, he was granted a life membership in that organization. He was also a co-founder and president of the National Medical Association, to which he was unfailingly devoted. Born free, bred in the environment of the North, and with an upbringing of active opposition to racial bias and injustices, he was the embodiment of independence and courage throughout his life. He passed away at age 91 on October 27, 1946.[17]

Frederick Douglas Stubbs 1906–1947

Dr. Frederick Stubbs was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 16, 1906. A Negro surgeon of unusual scholastic brilliance, who was probably the first Negro in the country to achieve formal residency training in thoracic surgery. With his family in comfortable circumstances, it was almost predestined that his career would be in medicine. His father Dr. J. Bacon Stubbs was a civic leader in Wilmington, and a graduate of the Howard University Medical School Class of 1894, and a onetime president of the Howard University General Alumni Association. Young Stubbs received his entire education in integrated schools, the elementary at Howard High School, Wilmington, graduating in 1922. He spent another year at a preparatory school at the Cushing Academy, Wilbraham, Massachusetts, from where he gained entry into Dartmouth in 1923. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his senior year and was a Rufus Choate Scholar for summer study at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He graduated from Dartmouth cum laude in 1927 and entered Harvard Medical School, again manifesting his scholarship by graduating cum laude in 1931, and with election to the honor fraternity, Alpha Omega Alpha. An accolade that eluded two Negroes prior cum laude graduates of Harvard, Dr. Louis T. Wright and Dr. James C. Whitaker. The time was politically opportune for the appointment of a Negro to the staff of the Cleveland City Hospital. Stubbs was presented as the best possible choice for appointment and became the first Black member of the house staff. His performance was outstanding and influenced the administration to further admit two Negroes the next year. Stubbs remained for an additional year training in general and thoracic surgeries (1932–1933) and then returned to Philadelphia for a residency in general surgery (1933–1934) at the Douglas Memorial Hospital. He then spent another year of residency at the Sea View Hospital, Staten Island, New York, which had developed a national reputation with the work of Charles Bailey, the famous thoracic surgeon and pioneer in cardiac surgery then. On returning to Philadelphia, he resumed practice and limited his work to surgery and became the first Negro appointed to the staff of the Philadelphia General Hospital, opening the door for other appointments. In the meantime, he passed the American Board of Surgery examinations and became one of the early colored diplomates. In 1942, Dr. Stubbs accepted the directorship of the Douglas Memorial Hospital, and he was able to help regain the institution's accreditation for internship, and residency training lost a few years earlier and once more received approval of the American College of Surgeons for the Surgical Department. He became a fellow of the International College of Surgeons, which had always been open to Blacks. Later in 1946, he was admitted to the American College of Surgeons with its official change in policy admitting qualified Negroes. At the time of his sudden death from cardiac crisis in 1947, he was Chief of the Division of Surgery at both the Mercy and Douglas Hospitals. He was also the Acting Chief of the Division of Tuberculosis of the Philadelphia General Hospital and had been invited to head a similar unit at the Jefferson Medical School.[18],[19]

Cleveland, Ohio

Charles Herbert Garvin 1889–1968

Dr. Garvin was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on October 27, 1889. His elementary education was in the Black public schools and secondary at the Atlanta University Academy from 1904 to 1908. He then matriculated at the Howard University College of Liberal Arts, receiving his BA in 1911. He then attended Howard Medical School, graduating in 1915, followed by internship at Freedmen's Hospital. After a brief stint as assistant surgeon, he left Washington to start a practice in Cleveland. At the outbreak of World War I, there were only four Negro officers in the entire US Army, with none in the Navy or Marine Corps and none in the Medical Corps of any service. Under the insistent clamor and agitation of Negro leaders, organizations, and fraternal groups, the government was forced to recognize this inequity, in expiation of which a special officer training school for Negroes was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Garvin then shelved his general practice and entered the army, and on June 8, 1917, was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Medical Corps, and on November 6, 1917, promoted to a Captain. He made two “ firsts,” the first Negro to be commissioned in the army in World War I and the first to study at the Army Medical School in Washington. On returning after the War, he resumed practice in Cleveland and was appointed to the hospital staff as an assistant surgeon in urology at the Lakeside Hospital. This brought him into academic affiliation with the prestigious medical school of Western Reserve University which represented a significant advance for Negroes in Cleveland. Up to that time, there had been no Black representation on the staffs of Cleveland hospitals, including municipal institutions, a situation that remained essentially unchanged until 1930, when Negroes acquired a modicum of political power in winning a few seats in the city council. In that year, the first Black intern was appointed to the Cleveland City Hospital, the brilliant but ill-fated Dr. Frederick Douglas Stubbs. At Western Reserve, Dr. Garvin's career progressed at a modest pace from clinical instructor to senior clinical instructor and assistant clinical professor of urology before his retirement. Of the vast body of Howard University alumni, few have been held in greater esteem and affection than Dr. Garvin. During the course of his career spanning almost five decades, he served his alma mater with devotion. While he achieved no pinnacle of professional eminence, but his modest career was notwithstanding one of distinction and extraordinary significance to the Black community of Cleveland.[20]

St. Louis, Missouri

William H. Sinkler 1906–1960

Dr. Sinkler was born in Summerville, South Carolina, on December 24, 1906. A graduate of the Haines Normal School in Augusta, Georgia, he received a BA in Literature from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1928 and then his MD degree from Howard University in 1932, where he was elected to the membership in the Kappa Pi Honorary Scholarship Society. He served his internship and residency in surgery at the St. Louis General Hospital from 1932 to 1936. In 1941, he was appointed the medical director of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a post he held until his death. He became a Diplomate of the American College of Surgery in 1947, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1948, and a Fellow of the International College of Surgeons in 1949. He was appointed to the faculty as instructor in surgery, Department of Surgery of the Washington University School of Medicine and the Homer G. Phillips Nursing School. Dr. Sinkler was the recipient of many honors including the “Honor and Merit” insignia of the Haitian National Order in 1953. His alma mater, Lincoln University in 1954, conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, and in 1959, he received the Distinguished Service Alumni Award from Howard University. He is widely regarded as the motive force in the transformation of the segregated municipal hospitals into a racially integrated university-affiliated institution, a modest but highly significant pioneering effort in that part of the country. Dr. Sinkler died on September 22, 1960, from a cardiac ailment.[21]

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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21.
William H. Sinkler – Obituary. J Natl Med Assoc 1960;52:455.  Back to cited text no. 21
    




 

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