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Black Surgeons and Surgery in America

Don K. Nakayama, MD, MBA, FACS, Editor.  Peter J. Kernahan, MD, PhD, FACS and Edward E. Cornwell, MD, FACS, FCCM, FCWAS, Principal contributors.

Before hospitals in the United States were fully integrated, there were Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, DC; Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, MO; and Provident Hospital in Chicago, IL. These general hospitals were dedicated to the in-patient care of Blacks and training of Black surgeons. Even earlier there was the Georgia Infirmary in Savannah, which was an in-patient infirmary for enslaved persons founded in 1832.

Before today’s surgeon-leaders—like L.D. Britt and Patricia Turner—there were Lasalle Leffall, Jr., Louis T. Wright, and Daniel Hale Williams, surgeons who led their fields and advanced the cause of civil rights. Before them were Alexander Thomas Augusta, the first Black man commissioned as a medical officer in the Civil War (1863); James McCune Smith, the first Black man to graduate from medical school (1837); and Onesimus, the enslaved Black man who showed the Reverend Cotton Mather the technique of inoculation for smallpox (circa 1710).

Black Surgeons and Surgery in America presents the history of the issues that shape the current debate on racial disparities in surgical care. The story is as old as the country itself and involves every major issue of the country’s racial past: slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement. In each era, up to the present day, there are heroes that dedicated themselves—sometimes at the cost of their own lives—to the cause of racial equity in surgical care.

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