Posts Tagged ‘black history’

Today in Black History–Daniel Hale Williams Performs Heart Surgery

July 9, 2013 Leave a comment

On this day in 1893, Daniel Hale Williams became the first physician to successfully perform heart surgery. The pioneering Williams also opened Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first medical facility with an interracial staff.

williamsWilliams was born on January 18, 1856 in Hollidaysburg, After his father died, 10-year-old Daniel was sent to live in Baltimore, Maryland, with family friends. He became a shoemaker’s apprentice but disliked the work and decided to return to his family, who had moved to Illinois. Like his father, he took up barbering, but ultimately decided to pursue his education. He worked as an apprentice with Dr. Henry Palmer, a highly accomplished surgeon, and then completed further training at Chicago Medical College.

Williams, AKA Dr. Dan to his patients, set up his own practice in Chicago’s South Side and taught anatomy at his alma mater. Because of primitive social and medical circumstances existing in that era, Williams treated patients in their homes, including conducting occasional surgeries on kitchen tables. In doing so, he learned many of the emerging antiseptic, sterilization procedures of the day and gained a reputation for professionalism.

Provident Hospital, back in the day.

Provident Hospital, back in the day.

Because of discrimination, African-Americans were still barred from being admitted to hospitals and black doctors were refused staff positions. Knowing change was needed, Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891, the nation’s first hospital with a racial integrated nursing and intern program.

On July 9, 1893, a young black man named James Cornish was injured in a bar fight, stabbed in the chest with a knife. By the time he made it to Provident he was close to death, having lost a great deal of blood and in shock.

Williams was faced with the choice of opening the man’s chest and possibly operating internally though this was almost unheard of in that era because of the risk of infection. With little time to spare, Williams made the decision to operate and opened the man’s chest. He sutured the sac surrounding the chest, then applied antiseptic procedures before closing him up. About six weeks later, Cornish left Provident completely recovered and would go on to live for another 50 years. And Dr. Dan’s procedures were used as standards for future internal surgeries.

The patient.

The patient.

In February 1894, Williams was appointed as chief surgeon at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Doctors from all over the country traveled to Washington to view the hospital and to sit in on surgery performed there.
During this time, Williams married Alice Johnson and the couple soon moved to Chicago where he resumed his position as chief surgeon at Provident Hospital, and also conducted surgeries at nearby Mercy Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital, an exclusive hospital for wealthy white patients. He was also asked to travel across the country to attend to important patients or to oversee certain procedures.

When the American Medical Association refused to accept black members, Williams helped create the National Medical Association and served as vice-president. Williams died in 1931, having set standards and inspired medical and nursing students, both black and white, to push harder and achieve more .



Independence Day Hero–Crispus Attucks

July 3, 2013 Leave a comment

01f/27/arve/g1833/085As you enjoy a July 4th picnic and watch fireworks, don’t forget about Crispus Attucks, and often forgotten African-American hero of the Revolutionary War.

In 1770, he became the first casualty of the American Revolution, shot and killed during the Boston Massacre. Over the centuries Attucks has been called “the first to defy, the first to die,” a true martyr.

Not much is known about Attucks, who was mixed race, black and Native American. Despite some debate, he was believed to be an escaped slave. His owner, William Brown, placed an ad in the Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal in 1750 offering a reward for his return. He described Attucks as a “Mulatto fellow, about 27 Years of Age, named Crispus, 6 feet 2 inches high, short cur’l hair, his knees nearer together than common.”

Attucks managed to avoid capture and became a sailor, working on a whaling crew that sailed out of Boston harbor. At other times he was employed as a rope maker.

Attucks’ occupation as a seaman made him particularly vulnerable to the presence of the British. He got pulled into the fray during a squirmish on March 5, 1770. Attucks and four other Americans were killed and six were wounded in what came to be called the Boston Massacre. He was the first one shot, taking two bullets in the chest.

Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to Crispus Attucks in the introduction of Why We Can’t Wait (1964) as an example of a man whose contribution to history, though much-overlooked by standard histories, provided a potent message of moral courage.

Learn more about Attucks here.