American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Black Surgeons and Surgery in America

Editor: Don K. Nakayama, MD, MBA, FACS

Meet James McCune Smith, the first Black to graduate from medical school (University of Glasgow, 1837), successful New York physician, and abolitionist. Frederick Douglass considered Smith the most important Black influence on his life.

Meet Martin Robison Delany, a physician trained by abolitionists in Pittsburgh whose chance for a formal medical education was derailed when he was summarily expelled from Harvard Medical School (1850) by its dean, Oliver Wendell Holmes. He became the first proponent of Black nationalist, the intellectual forerunner to Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm X, and the Black Power movement.

Meet Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard. The flamboyant surgeon to the locally-supported all-Black Taborian Hospital in the all-Black town of Mound Bayou, MS, he founded the first civil rights organization in the Mississippi Delta in 1951 and helped the prosecution in the Emmitt Till murder. He gave Medgar Evers his first job out of college and mentored Fanny Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and Jesse Jackson.

Meet Matilda Arabella Evans, the first Black woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. Barred from admitting patients to hospitals in Columbia, SC, because of her race, she opened her own inpatient facility in her home (1901). To keep the doors open to Blacks she maintained a practice of wealthy white women who depended on her to provide medical services that required discretion.

Black Surgeons and Surgery in America has these stories and more; surgeons practicing their craft and advancing the cause of racial equity, living within the broad themes of American history, from slavery and Jim Crow to affirmative action and contemporary racial inequities in health care.

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