Black First of the Day

Black Firsts 3e
ISBN: 9781578593699

Who was the first regularly recognized Black Physician in the United States?

  • He had a flourishing practice in New Orleans.
  • Born a slave in Philadelphia.
  • He was owned by a number of physicians.
  • He bought his freedom in 1783.


James Durham [Derham] (1762?-?)

James Durham [Derham] was the first regularly recognized black physician in the United States, by the 1780s. Born a slave in Philadelphia, his early masters taught him the fundamentals of reading and writing. He was owned by a number of physicians, ending up in New Orleans with a Scottish physician, who hired him to perform many medical services. He bought his freedom in 1783. Durham moved to Philadelphia and was lauded by prominent local doctors. He returned to New Orleans and had a flourishing practice. There he treated patients with diphtheria and was instrumental on helping to contain the yellow fever epidemic that ravaged New Orleans in 1796. In 1801 the city council restricted him because he was unlicensed and untrained.

Sources: Logan and Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography, pp. 205-6; Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine, pp. 5, 7-10; Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Supplement, pp. 77-78.

From Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Events by Jessie Carney Smith, © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. A celebration of achievement, accomplishments and pride.

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