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NYMC Presents Black History Month Lecture and Unveils Notable Alumni Exhibit

Celebrating the achievements and contributions of African Americans and New York Medical College’s (NYMC) proud history of diversity and inclusion.

February 22, 2021
Mill Etienne, M.D. '02, M.P.H., FAAN, FAES

Opening remarks of the evening were offered by Former Governor of New York David A. Paterson, distinguished professor of health care and public policy, Touro College and University System, who aimed to put Black History Month into perspective and what sets it apart from other monthly observances. “Almost every issue in Black history is coincidentally part of American history,” he said.  After citing several examples from history, he concluded, “If we as a people in this country respect each other and work hard, then we can borrow from Black history and add to American History our ability to learn from our mistakes and improve the quality of life and our condition.”

Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., chancellor and chief executive officer, presented the history of the Logan and Roberts families and the history of NYMC as the first medical school in New York to admit Black students including 18 Black alumni who graduated between 1888 and 1929, four of whom are part of the new notable alumni exhibit, Eugene Percy Roberts, M.D., Class of 1894; George Epps Cannon, M.D., Class of 1900; Henry Oswi Harding, M.D., Class of 1913; and Paul Augustus Collins, M.D., Class of 1913. He tied the history together explaining Dr. Crump’s establishment of the first scholarship for African American medical students and female medical students in the United States in 1928, which was given to Dr. Logan who was the sister-in-law of Dr. Roberts. Dr. Logan is believed to be the first woman to perform open-heart surgery in 1943 and was among the first African American women elected a fellow to the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Halperin closed by trying to put it into perspective. “At the height of the power of the Ku Klux Klan and during a contested election in 1928, New York Medical College was pleased to accept Dr. Crump’s donation for a scholarship to be given only to Black students and implemented the scholarship,” he said. “That is worth noting and celebrating this evening.”  

Dr. Etienne along with members of the NYMC chapter of the SNMA: Redab Alnifaidy, SOM Class of 2023; Ebtisam Zeynu, SOM Class of 2023; and Joshua Buckley, SOM Class of 2023; then unveiled the exhibit which will be on display in the Basic Sciences Building.

The display honors:

Eugene Percy Roberts, M.D., Class of 1894, known as “the dean of Harlem physicians” for nearly sixty years of service as a medical and civic leader, the first African American member of the New York City Board of Education and mentor to a generation of Black physicians at NYMC.

George Epps Cannon, M.D., Class of 1900, executive director of the National Medical Association, leader of campaigns against segregation in the State of New Jersey, founder of the Frederick Douglass Film Company, one of the first Black Black-owned movie studios and chair of an 18-state anti-lynching delegation to President Warren G. Harding.

Henry Oswi Harding, M.D., Class of 1913, public health leader and advocate for the well-being of the Harlem community, chair, Harlem Tuberculosis and Health Committee, first African American physician to hold a staff position at Mount Sinai Hospital, candidate for the New York City Board of Aldermen and founder of the Alpha Physical Culture Club.

Paul Augustus Collins, M.D., Class of 1913, first Black delegate to the Democratic National Convention, founding member of the Executive Council, Manhattan Central Medical Society and first Black chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harlem Hospital after its desegregation.

Christopher Roker, M.B.A., chief executive officer of NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan and chief growth officer, NYC Health + Hospitals delivered closing remarks. “The celebration and acknowledgment of these four pioneers from NYMC is so fitting. These black alumni, Drs. Roberts, Collins, Harding and Cannon, helped lay the foundation for so many more to come,” said Mr. Roker before proudly recognizing some of the Black physician leaders, pioneers and teachers at Metropolitan. 

Nicholas Webb, MSIS, archivist and digital preservation librarian, who created the alumni display noted, “After I joined NYMC in 2019, it became clear to me that the history of NYMC's commitment to minority medical education stretched back to its origins, and that many of the Black students who received their medical degrees here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had gone on to be leaders not just in medicine but in the civil rights movement. Since Dr. Eugene Percy Roberts was the preceptor to so many later graduates, his name became the key to identifying the names of his students in our historical records, and many of these names, like Drs. Cannon, Collins and Harding, turned out to be very important historical figures. I'm proud to have been a part of giving these alumni the place of permanent honor they deserve in the history of New York Medical College."