I thought this might be of interest to your readers.
The first excerpt below exemplifies the spirit of emancipation that was common in the South after the Revolution and up to the War Between the States. The black doctor, Dr. Derham, was born into slavery in Philadelphia, held as a slave there by Northern citizens and a British officer, then sold Southward where a sympathetic owner in New Orleans recognized his talents and liberated him.
The second excerpt describes the lack of inclusiveness in the Northern medical community after the war as they excluded black doctors from membership in medical societies, including the AMA. Though Massachusetts Senator Sumner seemed appalled at the behavior of the medical society for not accepting black doctors, he was instrumental during the war in ensuring that captured black slaves from the South were enrolled in Massachusetts regiments. By this trick and the purchase of substitutes for constituents, he and his cohorts protected most Massachusetts men from serving in the military whilst their black mercenaries died on the battlefields and from lack of medical attention.
It would be interesting to discover if Sumner’s personal physician was a black doctor.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
To The Pennsylvania Abolition Society: A Memorial by Dr. Benjamin Rush
Philadelphia, November 14, 1788
“There is now in this city a black man of the name of James Derham, a practitioner of physic, belonging to the Spanish settlement of New Orleans on the Mississippi. This man was born (into slavery, about 1762) in a family in this city…(and) When a boy, he was transferred by his master to the late Dr. John Kearsley, Jr. of this city, who employed him occasionally to compound medicines and to perform some of the more humble acts of attention to his patients.
Upon the passing of Dr. Kearsley, he became (after passing through several hands) the property of Dr. George West, surgeon to the Sixteenth British regiment, under whom during the late war in America, he performed many of the menial tasks of our profession.
At the close of the war he was sold to Dr. Robert Dove of New Orleans who employed him as an assistant in his business, in which capacity he gained so much of his confidence and friendship that he consented to liberate him…From Dr. Derham’s numerous opportunities of improving in medicine, he became so well acquainted with the healing art as to commence (as a medical) practitioner at New Orleans under the patronage of his last master. He is now about 26 years of age, has a wife but no children, and does business to the amount of $3000 a year.
I have conversed with him upon most of the acute and epidemic diseases of the country where he lives, and was pleased to find him perfectly acquainted with the modern simple mode of practice in those diseases. He speaks French fluently and has some knowledge of the Spanish language.”
(International Library of Negro Life and History, Herbert M. Morais, Publishers Company, Inc, 1969, pp: 8-9)
On Black Doctors in the Northern Army:
The high casualty rate suffered by Negro troops during the war was due in no small measure to the reluctance of the War Department …to assign a sufficient number of white doctors to Negro regiments. (The vast majority of black troops died of disease in camp), and Negro losses…amounted to 37,300, the mortality rate of colored troops being 35% greater than among other troops, despite the fact that they were not enrolled until 18 months after the (war) began.
The War Department (was unwilling) to commission Negro practitioners during the Civil War was reflected in the fact that only eight colored physicians were appointed to the Army Medical Corps. Seven of the eight were attached to hospitals in Washington, DC.”
During the critical years of the Reconstruction era, Negro doctors, eager to improve themselves professionally, sought admission into medical societies. On June 9, 1869, Dr. Alexander T. Augusta and Dr. Charles B. Purvis, two of the seven Negro physicians then practicing in Washington, DC, were proposed for membership in the American Medical Association (AMA). On June 23, Dr. A.W. Tucker, another eminently qualified Negro physician was similarly proposed for membership in the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. Although all three Negro doctors were reported eligible for admission, their applications were rejected.
About a month later, the Society’s leaders, in a published Appeal To Congress,” answered (Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner’s condemnation) by saying that the question of membership in the medical body was a personal and social matter. Senator Sumner responded by introducing a bill in the Senate on February 8, 1870, to repeal the society’s charter…But the Senate refused to act on the bill.
On January 3, 1870, Dr. Howard Reyburn, faculty member of Howard Medical School and surgeon-in-chief of the Freedmen’s Hospital, introduced a resolution (to the Society), that “no physician (who is otherwise eligible) should be excluded from membership in this Society on account of his race or color.” By a vote of 26 to 10, the Society refused to consider Dr. Reybern’s resolution. On February 9, 1870, Dr. Joseph Borrows nominated Dr.’s Augusta, Purvis and Tucker for membership, but the nominations were declared out of order because they were not made at a stated meeting as required by the regulations.
(International Library of Negro Life and History, Herbert M. Morais, Publishers Company, Inc, 1969, pp: 36-54)