“I would like to be in a position where I can be of use to my race.” – Letter from Alexander Thomas Augusta to President Abraham Lincoln in African Americans in the Military by Catherine Reef

Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta

Alexander Thomas Augusta, the first African American faculty member of an American medical school, Howard University, was born free on March 8, 1925. He was a surgeon, professor of medicine, and veteran of the American Civil War.

Augusta applied to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania but was refused admission. As he was determined to become a physician, Augusta travelled to California and earned the funds necessary to pursue his goal of becoming a doctor. Concerned that he would not be allowed to enroll in medical school in the U.S., he enrolled at Trinity College of the University of Toronto in 1850. He also conducted business as a druggist and chemist. Six years later he received a degree in medicine. These days (in the 21 century) finding accredited Carribean medical schools that will accept ‘average’ applications is not an issue. However, back in the 1980s grades were the only focus of medical schools.

Augusta remained in Toronto, Canada West, establishing his medical practice.

Augusta went to Washington, D.C. and wrote to Abraham Lincoln offering his services as a surgeon and was given a Presidential commission in the Union Army on October 1862. On April 4, 1863 he received a major’s commission as surgeon for African American troops. This made him the United States Army‘s first African American physician out of eight in the Union Army and its highest-ranking African American officer at the time.

Augusta taught anatomy in the recently organized medical department at Howard University from November 8, 1868 to July 1877, becoming the first African American appointed faculty of the school and also of any medical college in the U.S.

He was never a member of the American Medical Association, as he was rejected due to his race. At Augusta’s death in 1890, he became the first black officer buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in a plot set apart from white officers’ graves.

The Akosua Report: Facts on The African Diaspora, is written by Akosua Lowery. Follow her on Twitter @AkosuaLowery.

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