6 Black Public Health Figures to Learn About

Ionia Whisper 1872-1953

  1. Dr. Whipper, one of the few African American obstetricians of her time, noticed the need for shelter, education, and care for unwed mothers. To address this, she transformed her home into a maternity ward which was the first in DC to help mothers of color; until then, maternity wards had been exclusive to white women only. Dr. Whipper also worked in educational outreach in the rural South by teaching midwives on sterile delivery techniques.

Charles Drew 1904-1950

2. Dr. Drew was a professor and surgeon who lead the expansion of blood banks and created mobile blood donation stations called “blood mobiles”. As blood donations expanded as America entered World War 2, the armed forces segregated blood donations from blacks which Dr. Drew criticized. As a result, the Red Cross forced him to leave his position as Director of the Red Cross Blood Bank. Afterwards, Drew worked on training and mentoring students while advocating for ending the exclusion of black physicians in medical societies.

Sherman James 1944 – Present

3. An epidemiologist and health researcher, Sherman James coined the term “John Henryism” which characterizes the acute, long-term stress from racism and discrimination that contributes to early deaths in African Americans. The concept stems from a Black railroad worker and folk lore hero, John Henry, who won a race against a machine, but died from the exertion. Dr. James was the first to test this hypothesis by observing the relationship between different levels of “John Henry” (race and socioeconomic status) on cardiovascular function.

Camara Jones 1955 – Present

4. Dr. Jones is an epidemiologist, former APHA president, physician, and civil rights activist who created a theoretical framework for defining and understanding institutional, mediated, and internalized racism. To help build public awareness and understanding of race and racism, she crafts allegories like a Gardener’s Tale, the Cliff of Good Health, Japanese Lanterns, and more.

Marilyn Gaston 1955 – Present

5. Dr. Gaston is a pediatrician who’s study initiated a national screening program for sickle cell disease (SCD) in children. In 1986, she found that early treatment of penicillin could prevent later infections in children with SCD which influenced Congressional legislation to fund these screening programs. She is also the first African America women to lead the Public Health Service Bureau and has worked on understanding disparities in health outcomes.

Hope Landrine 1954 – 2019

6. Dr. Landrine was the first to use scientific data to demonstrate that stereotypes of women, poor, and minorities affect psychiatric diagnoses and contributed to continued inequities in her thesis “The Politics of Madness”. She sought to change psychology by fighting against decontextualizing individuals.

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