The white Allies of the WHA Multicultural ERG would like to take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate Black History Month. Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and legacy of Black and African Americans across U.S. history and society—from activists to civil rights pioneers. It’s also a time to remind ourselves of the struggles that still exist today. The theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance, so get ready to dive deep and click the links in color for more info!

Black History Month 2023 Theme – Resistance

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. Within the history of Black resistance, Black people (in an effort to live, and maintain and protect economic success) have organized/planned violent insurrections against those who enslaved them. Examples include Haiti (1791), where Black people armed themselves against murderous white mobs as seen similarly in Memphis, TN (1892), Rosewood, FL (1923), and New Orleans, LA (1900). Additionally, some Black people thought that the best way to resist was to self-liberate as seen by the actions those who left the plantation system, of Henry Adams and Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, when they led a mass exodus westward in 1879 and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who organized emigration to Liberia.

Black Resistance in Medicine

Black medical professionals also joined the resistance both physically and/or via resistance through excellence. Many early Black medical professionals worked with others to establish nursing schools, hospitals, and clinics in order to provide spaces for Black people to get quality health care, which they often did (or did not) receive at mainstream medical institutions. There are many Black medical pioneers who have paved the way in healthcare advancement for not only the underrepresented populations they serve, but also our nation:

  • Sojourner Truth was originally an enslaved nurse but would later gain fame as an abolitionist and women’s right activist. After fleeing her white plantation owners, she worked at the National Freedman’s Relief Association where she strove to improve the cleanliness and quality of healthcare. She also used her passion and eloquent speeches in front of Congress to finance training programs for nurses.
  • Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman in the US to receive an MD degree. After the civil war she moved to Virginia where she worked with other Black doctors who were caring for formerly enslaved people
  • Dr. James McCune Smith was the first Black person to receive a medical degree (although he had to enroll oversees because of the racist admissions at US medical schools). He became the first Black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the US and the first black physician to be published in US medical journals
  • Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens was the first Black woman to receive board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. Additionally she was the first Black woman to be admitted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She founded a teen clinic at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at aiding young mothers (one of the first such centers in the country)
  • Midwife Mary Francis Hill Coley was an influential midwife in American history. She was recognized as a healer, an advocate for healthy babies, and a liaison between the healthcare system and her community. Despite the racial barriers in Georgia at the time, Miss Mary helped both black and white mothers deliver babies in the segregated south. She did everything she could to aid the women and their families. She would even help mothers in recovery by doing chores or organizing their registration forms for the county health office. Later in her career, the award-winning documentary, All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story (1953), featured Miss Mary. Filmed by George C. Stoney, the midwife movie was commissioned by the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Audio-Visual Division of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The documentary became a staple in midwifery and nursing training programs for years.
  • Dr. Charles Richard Drew is known as the “father of blood banking”. He pioneered blood preservation techniques that led to thousands of lifesaving blood donations. He protested the American Red Cross’ policy of segregating blood by race and went to great lengths to support young Black people perusing careers in medicine.
  • Dr. Patricia Era Bath was the first Black person to complete an ophthalmology residency. During her residency, she conduct a study that found twice the rate of blindness among African-Americans compared with whites. This finding lead her to co-found the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness which supports programs that protect, preserve, and restore eyesight; focusing on the Black community. Throughout the rest of her career, Bath explored inequities in vision care.

Additional Learnings and Information

We encourage you to not rely on BIPOC individuals in personal or professional life as a resource for your own learning.