Friday, February 1, 2008

African-American physicians who paved the way

I like to give credit where credit is do and there is no better time to do this than Black History Month (we even got an extra day this year). Hip-hop would not exist if it were not for the pioneers of the culture: DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambatta, The Rock Steady Crew, Grand Wizard Theodore, and Coke La Rock just to name a few. That being said, there would be no blood banks or open-heart surgery if not for the contributions of African American physicians and scientist. Here’s a small list of the brothers and sisters who made it possible for me and many others to go to medical school, cure disease, and bring good health information to the community of AHH and the world.

Name: Imhotep- The Father of Medicine
Life: 2635-2595 BC (differs depending on source)
Medical School: Did not have a medical school during his time, so he created his own.

Contribution: A man of multiple talents (architect, scribe), his best-known writings was medical text. He is believed to be the author of the Edwin Smith Papyrus in which more than 90 anatomical terms and 48 injuries are described. He founded a medical school in Memphis long before Hippocrates was born. All who understand its origins crowns Imhotep the father of medicine.

Compared to: DJ Kool Herc who inspired the Merry-Go-Round- using two turntables at one time and creator of the break beat. Herc is considered the Father of Hip-Hop.

Name: Dr. James Durham, born into slavery
Life: 1762- time of death unknown.

Medical School: None; he was owned and taught by a number of white physicians to read, write, mix medicines, and treat patients. He bought his freedom and began his own medical practice in New Orleans, however the city restricted his practice, as he had no formal medical training.

Contribution: He treated more patients successfully for yellow fever than any other physician in the country. He was so impressive that his publication on diphtheria was read before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Compared to: Afrika Bambaattaa, Master of Records- had over 20,000 pieces of vinyl. Organized the very first international hip-hop tour.

Name: Dr. James McCune Smith
Life: 1813-1865
Medical School: University of Glasgow in Scotland

Contribution: First African American to earn a medical degree.

Compared to: The Twins, Keith and Kevin Smith. Inspired the B-Boy Style or break dancing, which included matching outfits with trench coats and hats. They would jump on the floor and create dance moves to DJ Kool Herc’s beats.

Name: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
Life: 1858-1931
Medical School: Chicago Medical College

Contribution: Performed the first successful operation on a human heart. The patient, a victim of a stab wound to the chest, lived 20 years after his open-heart surgery. Williams also established the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which was the first African-American owned and first interracial hospital in the United States.

Compared to: Grand Wizard Theodore- creator of the needle drop and the scratch, two of the most fundamental techniques any DJ using vinyl should posses.

Name: Dr. Charles Drew
Life: 1904-1950
Medical School: Howard University

Contribution: Dr. Drew researched blood plasma and blood transfusions for several years while in New York. He discovered that blood could be stored and used at a later date. He developed the system for storing blood, called a blood bank. He also established the American Red Cross blood bank. As a result, he has saved and continues to save the lives of many who need blood transfusions.

Compared to: Melle Mel, Godfather of the Rhyme. Grandmaster Melle Mel has been given the title as the greatest lyricist ever. As a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he was the principle scribe for The Message and White Lines. The group’s songs dominated the airways between 1979 and 1984.

Name: Vivien Thomas
Life: 1910-1985

Medical School: Vanderbilt University Medical School. He was also a surgical research technician at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) School of Medicine, research associate and supervisor of surgical research laboratories. He was appointed to the medical school faculty at JHU in 1977; he never attended medical school.

Contribution: Thomas was a scientific genius with superb surgical skills. Thirty years before Johns Hopkins admitted its first Back surgical resident, Thomas served as a black research technician without a degree and was teaching operative techniques to white staff surgeons at the university's hospital.

Compared to: Mos Def… who else? Mos Def portrayed Mr. Viven Thomas on the HBO special Something the Lord Made. Mos Def is multitalented and can be seen in movies, hosting Def Comedy Jam, and recently appeared on Bill Maher’s talk show Real Time with Cornell West.

Name: Dr. Mae C. Jemison
Life: 1956-
Medical School: Cornell University Medical School

Contribution: First African-American woman astronaut and the first African-American woman to enter space (September 1992)

Compared to: MC Sha Rock, the first female MC. Sha Rock was not afraid to battle with anyone and is often referred to as the Mother of Hip-Hop.

Name: Dr. LaSalle D. Lefall
Life: 1930-
Medical School: Howard University College of Medicine

Contribution: Dr. Lefall, a surgical oncologist, is the first African American president of the American Cancer Society.

Compared to: Coke La Rock is considered the first true MC ever in the history of hip-hop. He would lay down rhymes over the music of DJ Kool Herc at the legendary Cedar Park in New York.

Name: Dr. Jocelyn Elders
Life: 1933-
Medical School: University of Arkansas Medical School

Contribution: Dr. Elders is the first African-American to be appointed as U.S. Surgeon General

Compared to: MC Lyte who is the first rapper to ever to perform at Carnegie Hall and the first female rapper to ever receive a gold single.

Name: Dr. Benjamin Carson
Life: 1951-
Medical School: University of Michigan

Contribution: In 1987, this pediatric neurosurgeon made medical history with an operation that separated Siamese twins from the back of their heads. He had to orchestrate a 70-man team that worked for 22 hours to successfully separate the twins who survived the surgery and did well. Check out his two books Think Big and Gifted Hands.

Compared to: Grandmaster Flash is surgical on the 1’s and 2’s creating the vocabulary for the turntables that DJ’s continue to use today. He is the innovator of back spinning, phasing, and cutting- terms only a DJ would understand. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

(c) 2008 Rani Whitfield. This article was published February 2008 at

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