The Most Famous Black Doctors in History

From James McCune Smith to Alexa Irene Canady - learn about some of history's most famous African-American doctors who have made significant contributions to medicine.

The Most Famous Black Doctors in History

Throughout history, there have been many remarkable African-American doctors who have made significant contributions to the medical field. From James McCune Smith, the first African-American to obtain a medical degree, to Alexa Irene Canady, the first African-American neurosurgeon in the United States, these doctors have broken down barriers and paved the way for future generations. James McCune Smith (1813-1886) was born into slavery and is one of the most famous black doctors in history. He was an activist, writer, physician and intellectual who devoted his life to the eradication of slavery.

Alexa Irene Canady, 67, almost dropped out of college when she began her degree but went ahead and discovered her love for medicine by working on genetic research. She continued her studies in pediatrics and in 1981 became the first African-American neurosurgeon in the United States. Her research in children includes studies on the effects of hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by excessive fluid buildup in the brain.Durham, who did not obtain a medical degree, was born into slavery in 1762 and became an assistant to the doctors who bought it. He reportedly bought his freedom and established a medical office in New Orleans, where he successfully treated patients during a yellow fever outbreak in the late 1780s.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler worked as a nurse for nearly 10 years before becoming the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. She worked as a nurse and doctor in Massachusetts and Virginia.Myra Adele Logan became the first woman to perform open heart surgery. Apparently, it was the ninth time the procedure had been performed worldwide. Nathan Francis Mossell helped bring African Americans together in Philadelphia to establish Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, one of the first hospitals in the United States where black doctors treated black patients.

Vivien Theodore Thomas dropped out of college after losing most of her savings during the Great Depression. Later trained as a surgical assistant, Thomas in 1944 helped design the blue baby surgery with surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig at Johns Hopkins Hospital to correct a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot.Luis T.

Wright, pioneer in antibiotic research Dr. Wright followed in his father's footsteps and became a doctor. In the 1940s, Wright led a team that studied how the antibiotic chlortetracycline affects humans. Daniel Hale Williams III was one of the first doctors to perform heart surgery in the United States.

The former shoemaker's apprentice performed surgery in 1893 on a man who suffered a stab wound.Opposing the emigration of free black Americans to other countries, Smith believed that native Americans had the right to live in the United States and claim their land for their work and birth. In New York, Smith established his medical practice at 55 West Broadway, where he also opened the first black-owned pharmacy in the United States. In 1840, Smith wrote the first known case report to a black doctor entitled Case of Ptyalism with fatal termination.It is estimated that after the riots, Manhattan's black population declined by 20 percent, many of them leaving for Brooklyn. The school graduated a list of children who would occupy the highest positions in black intellectual and public life.

Louis Wright was also the first black doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital in New York City, and in 1929, the city hired him as a police surgeon, the first African-American to hold that position.During his 25-year practice, he was also the first black person to publish articles in American medical journals but he was never admitted to the American Medical Association or local ones. The census showed that blacks in the north had high rates of insanity and mortality; Smith replied with a masterful article.He gathered his supporters to go to Albany to testify before the state legislature against proposed plans to support the American Colonization Society that had supported sending free blacks to Liberia's colony in Africa. As a doctor, he treated black and white patients and also served as chief physician at New York City's orphanage for colored children.He went on to co-found National Medical Association and became the first black doctor admitted to American College of Surgeons. When Smith returned to Manhattan in 1837 with his titles he was greeted as a hero by black community.The achievements of these men would be exceptional from any point of view but even more so for a group that was born enslaved or deprived of basic rights as free blacks.