Travis J.A. Johnson, a member of the Class of 1908, is widely hailed as the first black graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (P&S), yet long-neglected records indicate that at least four black students matriculated at the medical school starting 75 years before Johnson. Research suggests that at least one of the students completed requirements for a diploma from P&S, but school administrators were unwilling to formally recognize the accomplishment with a degree.
The P&S attendance of these four pioneers – John Brown, Washington Walter Davis, David Kearney McDonough, and James Parker Barnett – spanned the years 1830 through 1850, establishing P&S as one of the first medical schools in America to offer courses of study in medicine to men of African heritage. Yet the progress of the four was severely hindered by the racism of their time, including the reluctance among some P&S officials to treat them on an equal footing with their classmates.
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