Exhibit traces history of blacks in medicine

February 26, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Having carved his way through a lifetime of racial barriers, medical student Harold R. Johnson walked into Dr. Joseph Miller's office 43 years ago, seeking a surgical residency at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Hospital.

"When he said he wanted a surgical residency, I said, `Sure, you have a job,' " Miller recalled.

Miller did not know it then, but he played a key role in opening the medical profession to blacks in Maryland. As chief of surgery at Fort Howard, Miller, who is white, admitted Johnson in 1956 as Maryland's first black surgical resident.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Maryland State Medical Society, Miller has helped create an exhibit tracing the history of blacks in Maryland medicine.

Miller, assisted by Dr. Roland Smoot, an assistant dean at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has created "Alpha to Omega? A History of African Americans in Maryland Medicine." The exhibit will be at the society's headquarters at 1211 Cathedral St. until March 19.

"It's 15 [poster] boards that trace black medical history," Miller, 88, said.

Miller included information about Johnson in the exhibit, as well as life stories of other Maryland physicians, including Donald E. Wilson, Claudia L. Thomas, James S. K. Hildreth, and Benjamin S. Carson Sr.

Smoot said he asked Miller to help him create the exhibit. Miller worked at his Timonium home and in the medical society's library, digging up information on the people who had shaped the state's medical history -- many of whom he knew personally.

About 35 people have visited the exhibit since it opened Feb. 1, said medical society spokeswoman Margaret Burri. Miller brought many of the visitors.

Yesterday, Miller, Smoot and four friends of Miller viewed the exhibit. The friends, three of them Miller's neighbors and one a former nurse who worked with him, seemed entranced by Miller's impromptu lecture. He grilled them with questions and answered correct responses with a wide grin.

The group wandered around the small room packed with easels. Smoot included his anecdotes about the physicians.

Smoot, 72, also has roots in Maryland medicine.

Born in Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Howard University's undergraduate and medical schools, Smoot said that in 1960 he became one of Baltimore's first black internal medicine physicians. He retired in 1995 and, since 1978, has been an assistant dean for student affairs at the Hopkins medical school.

Smoot said that the university will display the exhibit March 26 and 27, and he believes more students will see it then.

"It's something we should know about, black history," Smoot said. "We haven't done much about it, because we feel bad about our history. If we don't talk about it, we're doomed to repeat it."

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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