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Pre-Civil War Black History: African American Doctors in Brooklyn and US

Brooklyn Physicians & Nurses in Vanguard in 19th Century Pre-Emancipation Era


Brooklyn’s African American history includes a few examples of pre-Civil War era medical personnel.

There are fascinating histories of several African American physicians in the pre-Civil War era. They include James McCune Smith, Dr. Peter William Ray, and Susan Smith McKinney(Stewart) was the first Black woman to practice in Brooklyn, and the third to practice in the United States, among others. The remarkable saga of black doctors and nurses in pre-Civil War America, and especially during the Civil War itself, has largely been ignored. However, the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Civil War did bring some of this history to light, nationally and locally in Brooklyn.

In 2011, Coney Island Hospital hosted a historical exhibition in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War, developed and produced by the Exhibition Program at the National Library of Medicine, that describes some of the medical contributions made by African Americans during the war. The exhibit explores the accomplishments and biographies of four individuals: surgeons Alexander T. Augusta and Anderson R. Abbott, and nurses Susie King Taylor and Ann Stokes.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “many histories have been written about medical care during the American Civil War, but the participation and contributions of African Americans as nurses, surgeons and hospital workers has often been overlooked. “ This exhibit, Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine is accessible online.

“Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries opens the door to this rarely studied part of history and brings a voice to those that have remained silent for nearly 150 years,” Curator Jill L. Newmark said in a press release.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the Civil War claimed the lives of about one in every five of the three million soldiers who fought, and "countless others received severe debilitating injuries."

For more information, also see the Brooklyn Historical Society at http://www.brooklynhistory.org.

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