Black in healthcare

We've made a timeline of some amazing achievements the black community and black activists have made in healthcare.

Onesimus was enslaved and was brought to United States in the late 1600's or early 1700's.

In 1706, he was given to a puritan minister, where he introduced him to the idea and procedure of variolation.

He described how in West Africa it was common for some of the liquid from smallpox pustules to be dripped into an incision on someone else. This would commonly lead to a less severe case of smallpox in the recipient

The technique prevented an outbreak in Boston in 1721. In 2016, Onesimus was voted one of the "Best Bostonians of all time".

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Dr. James Durham
Dr. James Durham is often noted as the first African American physician in the United States.

Starting life enslaved, Durham's firs three enslaver's were physicians which is how he received his medical training.

His second enslaver, John A. Kearsley, Jr, made Durham his apprentice. Apprenticeships were a common way of learning medicine in the 1700's as there were very few medical schools.

Benjamin Rush, one of the founding fathers, met and wrote about Durham to push forward the idea to abolish slavery.

Dr. Rush thought so highly of Durham, that he asked permission to read Durham’s paper on diphtheria before a session of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Philadelphia. It's likely this was the first time a scholarly paper by a Black man had been read in this environment.

Durham continued to practice in New Orleans until 1801 when they insisted people needed M.D degrees to practice medicine.

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Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father who was a soldier.

During her childhood, her mother ran a lodging house for wounded soldiers, who she treated with traditional Jamaican medicine.

In 1854, Mary approached the British War Office to go to Crimea as an army nurse. The War Office denied Mary's request, but she decided to fund her own trip anyway.

Mary opened the "British Hotel" near the front line, which provided a space for sick and recovering soldiers.

In her time, Mary was often called "Mother Seacole", and her reputation was as well-known as Florence Nightingale back in the UK.

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Africanus Horton
James ‘Africanus’ Beale Horton (1835–1883) was a writer and a medical surgeon in the British Army.

Born in Sierra Leone, Africanus was selected for a British War Office scholarship to study medicine in the UK, graduating in 1858 from Kings College London. He continued his studies in Edinburgh where he completed his MD.

It was during his time at university that he took the name ‘Africanus’, reflecting his pride for his African heritage.

Africanus made important contributions to the medicine and botany literature of West Africa. However, he's best remembered for his political writing and his challenge of the prevalent racist views of the time.

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Robert Tanner Freeman
Robert Tanner Freeman was an American dentist.

He was one of the first six students to attend the new Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

When graduating in 1869, Freeman was the first African American to graduate with a dental degree in the United States.

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Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African American woman to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States.

In 1979, she was the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. However, decided against going into public nursing due to the discrimination she often encountered during her training.

Mahoney went into private nursing and was known for her efficiency, patience, and caring bedside manner.

In 1908, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and gave the opening speech at their first convention.

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Annie Brewster
Born in St Vincent, Annie Brewster moved to London as a small child.

She working from 1881 to 1902 in the London Hospital and is one of the first Afro-Caribbean nurses to have been identified as working in Britain at the time.

Annie was promoted to nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards in 1888.

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James Samuel Risien Russell
James was one of Britain’s first black and mixed raced British consultants. He was a pioneering neurologist and Professor of Medicine at UCL.

In the early 1900s, Russell was regarded as one of the country’s most important figures in the medical profession. He played a key role in establishing the British school of neurology in the 1890s.

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John Alcindor
John Alcindor was a physician and activist from Trinidad, who settled in London.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Alcindor wanted to use his skills to help with the war effort. Despite his qualifications and experience, he was rejected by the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 because of his ‘colonial origin’.

Despite this snub, he joined around 90,000 other people and signed up as a British Red Cross volunteer. He helped countless wounded soldiers at London railway stations as they returned from the battlefields.

Alcindor was the Red Cross Medal for his work.

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Harold Moody
Harold Moody was a doctor and activist from Kingston, Jamaica.

In 1904, he sailed to the UK to study medicine at King's College and finished at the top of his class in 1910. Moody was refused work because of his race, so started his own medical practice in Peckham in 1913.

In 1931, Moody started the League of Coloured Peoples, which was the first Black civil-rights group in the UK.

Throughout his life he fought for the welfare of Black people in the UK. He was hugely influential in the fight to end discrimination in employment and public places.

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Charles Drew
Charles Drew was an American surgeon and medical researcher.

Drew came up with innovative ways to store blood plasma in blood banks. His work as the director of the first blood bank project in Britain during World War II helped save thousands of lives.

He also established the American Red Cross blood bank and served as its director.

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40,000 Caribbean nurses
In 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Essex, carrying hundreds of people to help fill the post-war workforce shortages in the UK.

Many of these people took up roles within the NHS committed to caring for British citizens, despite the overt racism and discrimination.

They formed a crucial part of our health service, which was created just two weeks after the HMT Empire Windrush docked.

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Dr. Raphael Armattoe
Raphael Armattoe was an Ghanaian scientist, physician and political activist.

He studied medicine in Edinburgh, and moved to Belfast after getting a locum job. After the second world war, Armattoe opened his medical practice in Derry.

In 1948, Armattoe was runner up the Nobel Prize in Physiology for the discovery of the Abochi drug, which can cure guinea-worms, toothaches, bronchitis, boils and allied diseases.

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Dr. Jane C. Wright
Dr. Jane C. Wright was a pioneer in cancer research and surgeon.

Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells.

She also pioneered the use of drugs to treat breast cancer and skin cancer.

Wright was appointed an Associate Dean and Professor of Surgery at New York Medical College.

At the time, this was the highest post ever attained by an African-American woman in medical administration.

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Dr. Baron Pritt
Dr. Pritt was a doctor and the first person of African descent to be a parliamentary candidate.

He was founder of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, and president of the British Medical Association.

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Dr. Hawa Abdi
A renowned human rights activist, doctor, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Dr. Abdi became known during the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in the mid-1990's. At the time, she was running a small clinic that she opened in 1983, which helped women in child birth and promoted healthcare for children.

As the civil war continued and Somalia disintegrated, Abdi turned the small clinic into a fully-fledge hospital, school and a camp for those who had been displaced.

She rejected the politics behind the civil war, and adopted a philosophy of unity and sheltering as many people from many different backgrounds.

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Ola Brown
Born in London, she lost her sister at a young age in Nigeria because the ambulance couldn't reach her quickly enough. This motivated Ola to set up the first air-operated emergency medical services in West Africa, Flying Doctors Nigeria.

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Illustrated by Aisha Stoll