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Celebrating Black Excellence During Black History Month

February 29, 2024

Each February, Black History Month stands as a testament to the resilience, creativity, and contributions of Black people throughout history. It’s a time to reflect on the struggles, triumphs, and ongoing journey towards equality and justice. This month-long celebration serves as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging, preserving, and learning from Black history.

Black History Month traces its roots back to the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, a pioneering Black historian and educator who established Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson’s vision was to ensure that the rich and diverse history of Black Americans would be recognized and integrated into the fabric of American history. Over time, the week-long observance expanded into a month-long celebration, officially recognized by the U.S. government in 1976.

One of the core purposes of Black History Month is to shine a light on the achievements and contributions of Black individuals in various fields, including arts, sciences, politics, literature, and civil rights activism. It’s a time to honor the trailblazers who have shattered barriers and paved the way for future generations. Black history is replete with remarkable figures whose impact reverberates across generations. From the courageous activism of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ignited the Civil Rights Movement, to the groundbreaking literary prowess of Maya Angelou, whose words continue to inspire and resonate with readers worldwide, Black history is filled with stories of courage, resilience, and triumph over adversity.

In addition to prominent figures like Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, we wanted to highlight a few other individuals whose contributions to medicine and science have helped mold the healthcare industry into what it is today:

Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013)

Wright was a pioneering African American oncologist whose groundbreaking work significantly advanced the field of cancer treatment and research. In the 1950s, she began conducting her groundbreaking research in chemotherapy, with a focus on new methods for administering chemotherapy drugs, including the use of intra-arterial injection directly into tumors, which proved to be more effective and less toxic than traditional methods. Wright’s work not only revolutionized cancer treatment but also challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inequality in the medical field. As an African American woman in a predominantly white and male-dominated profession, Wright faced numerous obstacles and discrimination throughout her career. However, her determination, intellect, and unwavering commitment to her patients propelled her to become one of the most respected and influential figures in oncology.

William G. Anderson (1927-2007)

William G. Anderson was one of the few Black physicians of his time and a civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the fight for desegregation and equality in healthcare. In 1955, Anderson made history by becoming the first African American resident surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He played a key role in organizing healthcare workers and advocating for desegregation in hospitals and medical facilities across the South. During the height of the civil rights movement, Anderson provided medical care and support to activists participating in marches, protests, and demonstrations. He also helped to establish community health centers in underserved Black communities, providing much-needed healthcare services to those who had been marginalized and neglected by the medical establishment. His tireless advocacy and leadership have helped to shape a more inclusive and equitable society, leaving behind a legacy of hope, courage, and resilience for generations to come.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston (1939-present)

Marilyn Hughes Gaston is a pediatrician and public health advocate known for her commitment to improving the health outcomes of underserved communities, particularly focusing on issues affecting African Americans. One of Gaston’s notable achievements is her work on sickle cell disease. In the 1980s, Gaston served as the Assistant Surgeon General of the United States and the first African American woman to be appointed as a bureau director in the U.S. Public Health Service. After leaving the Public Health Service, Gaston continued her advocacy through her work as the co-founder and president of Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center, a non-profit organization addressing health disparities, providing community-based programs, and empowering individuals to take control of their health. Her impact on public health policy and her commitment to advancing health outcomes for minority populations have earned her numerous awards and accolades.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Her achievement was a testament to her intellect, perseverance, and unwavering determination to overcome systemic barriers and break new ground in the medical field. Following her graduation, Crumpler embarked on a career where she dedicated herself to providing medical care to African American communities, particularly women and children who had long been marginalized and underserved by the healthcare system. In 1883, Crumpler published a seminal work titled “A Book of Medical Discourses,” which made her the first African American woman to write a medical text. 

James McCune Smith (1813-1865)

James McCune Smith was a physician, abolitionist, and intellectual who made significant contributions to the fields of medicine, education, and civil rights during the 19th century. Born into slavery in New York City, Smith’s early life was marked by the challenges of racial oppression and limited access to education. Despite facing systemic barriers, Smith earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and medical degrees, becoming the first African American to do so. He used his platform to challenge prevailing racial stereotypes and promote racial equality and justice. Smith was actively involved in the abolitionist movement, working alongside prominent figures such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison to advocate for the rights and freedom of enslaved individuals. One of Smith’s most significant contributions to African American literature and intellectual history is his pioneering work “The Destiny of the People of Color,” published in 1843. In this seminal text, Smith eloquently articulated a vision of racial uplift and empowerment for African Americans, advocating for education, self-improvement, and collective action as means of achieving equality and freedom.


Black History Month offers an opportunity to examine the complex and often painful legacy of slavery, segregation, and systemic racism in the United States. It’s a time to confront uncomfortable truths, acknowledge past injustices, and reaffirm the commitment to building a more just and equitable society for all. In recent years, Black History Month has evolved into a global celebration, resonating with people from all walks of life who recognize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. It serves as a reminder that Black history is not confined to a single month but is an integral part of the human story, deserving of recognition and respect year-round.

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