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A Special Daily Resource Shared by Kerry Ruff

Monday, February 8th, 2021




Louis Tompkins Wright was born on July 23, 1891 in LaGrange, Georgia to his father Ceah Ketchan Wright and his mother Lula Tompkins. Mr. Ceah Wright was born a slave but obtained a formal education and finished medical school as valedictorian but gave up his medical practice to become a Methodist minister. After Louis was born, his father would die and his mother would remarry 8 years later to William Fletcher Penn who was the first African American to graduate from Yale School of Medicine. He was a well-known doctor in Atlanta and was the first African American to own an automobile in the city. Mr. Penn was also a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Louis Tompkins Wright graduated from Clark Atlanta University in 1911 and applied for medical school at Harvard University. One of Harvard’s interviewers deemed Louis unfit because he went to an all-black undergraduate institution so he subjected Louis to numerous tests. After going through this unnecessary process, it was decided that Mr. Wright had adequate chemistry for admission to this school. While at Harvard, Louis had to fight for equal treatment and had to protest his professor’s decision to prevent him from delivering white patients' babies. In 1915, Louis Wright would receive his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1915, finishing fourth in his class. With his cum laude honors, he should have walked in the front of his graduating class, but he was told to walk at the end of the line. He would marry a public school teacher, Corinne Cooke, the couple would have two daughters who would also become physicians, and researchers like their father. After medical school and moving back to Georgia, Mr. Wright would join the Army Medical Corps serving as a lieutenant during the World War I stationed in France. While there, he introduced a new technique for vaccinating against smallpox, called intradermal vaccination for smallpox. It involved injecting the vaccine into the deep layer of skin which was less invasive and was less likely to cause infections at the injection site. He was a victim of a German chemical weapon aka a gas attack, damaging his lungs so he was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded. In 1919, Louis would return to the United States and decided to settle in New York rather than Georgia where racism was still very much alive. He set-up a private medical practice in Harlem and established ties to the Harlem hospital. Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright became the first African-American on the surgical staff at Harlem Hospital in 1920 and on that day, four white physicians resigned in protest and the doctor who hired Mr. Wright was demoted and was reassigned to a different hospital. By 1930, out of the 64 surgeons and physicians at the hospital, seven were African American and by 1940, Dr. Wright became the first African American chief of surgery at an integrated hospital. Dr. Wright addressed issues of professionalism, quality of standards and his additions gained attention nationwide, and his changes were implemented into many hospitals across the country. In 1929, Dr. Wright was appointed to serve as the first African American police surgeon with the New York Police Department. Dr. Wright pushed for racial equality, both in medicine and in the community. He served as a chairman for the NAACP for 20 years. The Harlem Hospital library was renamed in his honor and he established the Cancer Research Center at Harlem Hospital in 1947 before his death. Today we honor the man who was influential in both his medical research efforts and pushing for racial equality. Thank you. Happy Black History Month.

“There is no such thing as Negro health ... the health of the American Negro is not a separate racial problem to be met by special segregated setups or dealt with on a dual standard basis, but is an American problem which should be adequately and equitably handled by the identical agencies and met with the identical methods that deal with the health of the remainder of the population.”


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