The history of African-American doctors is one of courage, resilience, and determination. From Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first black woman to receive a medical doctor's degree in the United States, to Charles Drew, MD, MSD'40, who was denied entry to American medical schools for reasons of color, these pioneering doctors have made an indelible mark on the medical profession. Slade was the second African-American to attend and graduate from medical school at the University of North Carolina. Oscar Diggs (pictured left), a veteran and graduate of North Carolina A & T, entered medical school in the fall of that year, becoming the first African American to attend Carolina medical school.
In 1955, he graduated from Carolina as his first African-American doctor of medicine. In April 1968, a group of Harvard Medical School (HMS) professors drafted a document proposing that the School should increase minority enrollment by at least 15 students. This proposal was met with strong support and opposition from the faculty. Many teachers supported increasing minority enrollment, but there was a debate about how many minority students to accept, where to find those students, and how to support them both financially and emotionally.
Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist known for his work as Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Jackson, Mississippi, and in community medicine at Tufts University, joined the faculty in 1969 to support incoming students and foster diversity and inclusion at HMS. He was the first director of the HMS Office of Recruiting and Multicultural Affairs, which focused on increasing the representation of Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican American and Native American students. Since 1969, HMS has graduated more than 1,350 doctors from minority groups. In 1864, after years as a nurse, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman in the United States to receive a medical doctor's degree.
She earned that distinction at the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was also the institution's only black graduate. After the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he worked with other black doctors who were caring for formerly enslaved people in the Office of Freedmen. Patrick was born in 1908 and graduated from Harvard University in 1929 but was unable to gain admission to an American medical school because of his race. He eventually found his way to Trinity Medical College in Canada where he became the first black medical student in Western Canada.
William Henry Fitzbutler was Michigan's first black medical graduate and had a long and distinguished career as a physician and educator in Kentucky. He provided health care to the poor, founded a literacy society that donated books and school supplies to black children, and actively participated in anti-slavery circles on both sides of the border. Berry was the first black doctor on staff at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, in 1946 but he had to fight for an assistant position there for years. He eventually became the founding dean of what became the Morehouse School of Medicine - the first predominantly black medical school opened in the United States in the 20th century. Buried with full military honors, he became the first black officer buried in Arlington National Cemetery. To spread the word about his work and that of other African-American doctors who have changed medicine for good, Mendes has worked on outreach programs including an Association of Black Cardiologists video campaign with poet Maya Angelou. The history of African-American doctors is one that is filled with courage and determination.
From Rebecca Lee Crumpler who became the first black woman to receive a medical doctor's degree in 1864 to Charles Drew who was denied entry to American medical schools for reasons of color; these pioneering doctors have made an indelible mark on medicine.