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Exhibit celebrates history of African-Americans at the WSU School of Medicine

January 23, 2015

“Celebrating Diversity: An Exhibit and Lecture Series on the History of African-Americans at the Wayne State University School of Medicine” will explore the rich history and the significant contributions of African-Americans during the school of medicine’s 147-year history.

The exhibit, which kicks off with an opening reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 29, will be on display all February in the atrium of the Shiffman Medical Library, 320 E. Canfield St. At 2 p.m. each Saturday in February, guest speakers will present histories of their personal and family experiences.

“The Wayne State University School of Medicine has a rich and diverse history,” said Anita Moncrease, M.D., clinical associate professor of Pediatrics and a Class of 1984 graduate. “This exhibit will help inform the school of medicine family about the important role the school played -- and still plays -- in educating African-American physicians. It will also tell some of the stories of the people whose photos they may see on the wall or names they may overhear in passing. Over time, African-Americans who have made major contributions to the school of medicine are being forgotten. This exhibit will remind those of us who knew some of them and will introduce others just coming along to them.”

Visitors will find included in the exhibit a timeline of African-Americans’ involvement with the school of medicine. Historic points along that timeline include:

* The 1869 graduation of Joseph Ferguson, M.D., who graduated from the Detroit Medical College and became the first African-American in Detroit -- and most likely in Michigan -- to earn a medical degree. Dr. Ferguson also was instrumental in the Underground Railroad and in the movement to integrate Detroit’s public schools.

* The 1893 graduation of Albert Henry Johnson, M.D., the third African-American graduate from the Detroit College of Medicine. A century later, his twin great- granddaughters, Kimberly and Kelly Colden, graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Dr. Johnson was one of the founders of Dunbar Hospital, the first African-American non-profit hospital in Detroit.

* In 1917 Drs. Daisy and David Northcross opened Mercy General Hospital, the first African-American hospital in Detroit.

* In 1926 Chester Cole Ames, M.D., graduated from the Detroit College of Medicine and Surgery. He was the first African-American to obtain an internship in urology at a white hospital in Detroit, but was never allowed on staff. He was Detroit’s first African-American intern, resident and member of the Wayne University medical faculty. He cofounded three African-American hospitals in Detroit, but was never granted hospital privileges to practice his specialty.

* In 1943 Marjorie Peebles-Meyers, M.D., graduated from Wayne University College of Medicine, the school’s first African-American female graduate. She became the first African-American female resident and chief resident at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

* In 1960 African-American physicians Thomas Flake Sr., M.D., Class of 1951; Addison Prince, M.D.; William Gibson, M.D.; and James Collins, M.D., were appointed to the staff at Harper Hospital staff, thereby integrating the Detroit Medical Center hospital staff.

Dr. Moncrease said visitors will find that many of the same barriers that African-Americans seeking careers in medicine faced a century ago continue to be roadblocks. At one time, she said, with the exception of Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College, two historically African-American universities, the school of medicine graduated more African-American physicians in the country than any other college.

“The personal stories of Drs. Joseph Ferguson, Marjorie Pebbles-Meyers and Charles Whitten are very interesting,” said Dr. Moncrease, an alum of the Black Medical Association and member of the Post Baccalaureate Program Admission Committee. “Their contributions to medicine in the face of racism, segregation and discrimination are lessons that everyone can take something away from. It is my hope that these personal stories will inspire visitors to want to learn more about them, other African-American alumni and African-American health care in Detroit, especially through attending the Saturday lecture series.”

Dr. Moncrease said the exhibit could not have been developed without the contributions of many people, including Dedra Seay-Scatliffe, a member of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Mary Simmons, B.F.A., manager of Biomedical Communications for the School of Medicine, who designed and produced the exhibit.

“So many times people don’t know their history, so others will come along and lay claim to the positive aspects of it,” said Dr. Moncrease, who describes history as one of her passions, after God and family. “Because you don’t know your histories, others make you think you have not made a contribution in order to make you feel small. Knowing your history puts everyone on a level playing field, not because you can change the past but because you can learn from it and determine your own future.

“Learning history helps me respect others because I have a better understanding of what they have gone through in order to be where they are today, added Dr. Moncrease, who serves as the historian of her church, Hartford Memorial Baptist. “A physician can only truly know what is wrong with his or her patient by taking a good history. If they do not, they have an excellent chance of misdiagnosing and mistreating their patient. The physician can do a lot of tests to assist them with making the right diagnosis, but they could have saved themselves and the patient a lot of time and money by just taking a good history.”

The “Helping Hands: The African-American Health Care Experience in Southeastern Michigan” exhibit will also be on display, courtesy of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project and the University of Michigan. The exhibit provides a historical context for understanding the African-American experience with health care, the health professions and the health sciences in southeastern Michigan.

 

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