Since 1976, American presidents have designated February as National Black History Month. While nowadays there seems to be a national day or month dedicated to just about everything, remember that raising awareness and initiating change towards equality isn’t like National Fettuccine Alfredo Day! This is a time to recognize, remember, and celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of the Black community while encouraging progress. First Care Clinics has decided to celebrate the best way we know how: through highlighting a few incredible Black individuals that changed the course of healthcare for the better.
Solomon Carter Fuller, MD (1872 – 1953)
Dr. Fuller was the first African American psychiatrist in the United States. He spent a portion of his life researching degenerative brain disorders with Dr. Alois Alzheimer at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital in Munich and became a huge part of the research they went into Alzheimer’s Disease.
James Durham (1762 – 1802)
Considered the first African American to practice medicine in the United States, Dr. James Durham was born enslaved and then bought his freedom. He learned how to read and write from his owners, who also practiced medicine. After buying his freedom from his third enslaver, he opened his medical practice in Philadelphia, specializing in throat medicine. He worked heavily in treating the yellow fever epidemic, among many other accomplishments.
Daniel Hale Williams, MD (1858 – 1931)
Widely renowned as the first African American cardiologist to perform successful open-heart surgery, Dr. Williams practiced as one of three Black physicians in Chicago during the Reformation Era. He proudly worked with the Equal Rights League and founded the first interracial hospital, Provident Hospital and Training School. Williams’ advancement of medical training and education drastically improved the opportunities for healthcare careers in the Black community.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Ph.D. (1831 – 1895)
Dr. Crumpler was the first African American woman to attend and graduate medical school. Her achievements in healthcare can be noted in her published book, “A Book of Medical Discourses.” At this time, published works from women were unheard of, let alone African American women. Her valiant perseverance of daily racism and dedication to healthcare set a precedent for generations to come.
Henrietta Lacks (1920 – 1951)
Unlike the doctors mentioned above, Henrietta Lacks was not formally educated and did not practice medicine. She was a poor Black young mother to five children diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She underwent numerous radium treatments and eventually died from the disease, as well as the dangerous operations and tests performed on her. After her death, doctors found that her cancer cells began doubling every 20-24 hours. This significant discovery led to the continued and present-day use of her cells, nicknamed “HeLa” for her first two and last two initials, in cancer research.
The five examples of incredible individuals endured difficult circumstances such as medical school and racial injustice, prejudice, and persecution. In Henrietta Lacks’ case, she never knew how her own body would be used to further medical research. Without these individuals fighting, sacrificing, and persevering, our world would not be the same.
So this February, take a moment to reflect on all of the incredible advancements provided to the world by the Black community. Consider the freedom, safety, and rights that we have that came from communities striving for equality.