The “teens” just before the start of World War I saw three medical students of color at the College of Medicine at the same time. Claude Carmichael, Hugh M. Gray,
and Douglas Beverly Johnson
even roomed together
in the same lodgings on Cherry Street. Carmichael was born the son of a schoolteacher in 1892 in Edna, a small town not far from the coast in southeastern Texas. He, like Robert Holland, attended what is now Prairie View A&M University, and it
is possible that he had some contact with Dr. Holland, whose practice was just a few counties away.
He spent two years at Howard University Medical School before coming to Burlington to complete his medical education. At this same time,
Hugh M. Gray and Douglas Johnson also made the move from Howard to UVM. Gray was born in 1889 in Virginia, where he was educated in the public schools. After graduation from UVM he married, and practiced in the Arlington, Va. area for the rest of
his career, before his death in 1961.
Claude Carmichael had a long career of service to patients in the District of Columbia for 57 years. He served in the military in World War I and, during World War II, he led more than 30,000 physicals
for the Selective Service. Carmichael also was a journalist and published hundreds of baseball columns in the Washington Tribune and Washington Afro-American. He died in 1971 at age 79, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
third roommate on Cherry Street, Douglas Beverly Johnson
, was born in 1888 in Petersburg, Va., where his father was a mathematics professor at what is now Virginia State University (VSU). Johnson attended VSU, Richmond’s Virginia
Union University, and Howard University before matriculating at UVM and moving into his temporary home on Cherry Street. He returned to Petersburg after graduation and went into practice. Later he served in France in World War I as a surgeon. Returning
from the war to New York City on a troopship, he fell in love with the city, and settled there. He married his wife, Myrtle, in 1920 and became a prominent member pf the Harlem medical community before his untimely death from appendicitis in 1925,
leaving behind a young daughter and his wife, who was pregnant at the time. That baby, who would never know her father, would follow in his footsteps years later.
As Johnson was leaving Burlington, Ernest R. Alexander
finishing studying at the University of Minnesota before heading to UVM. He thrived at the College, where he was awarded “Honor Man in Medicine” and the Woodbury Prize for clinical proficiency. After graduation he opened a practice in
Harlem and was on staff at both Harlem Hospital and Bellevue. Alexander and his wife, Lillian, were very active in the years of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first “life members” of the NAACP, and corresponded extensively with
one the organization’s founders, W.E.B. DuBois. After his death in 1960 his widow donated the “E.R. Alexander Collection of Negroana,” which includes a huge gathering of rare sheet music, to Fisk University, the historically Black
institution in Nashville, where Dr. Alexander had served on the Board of Trustees.David Gladstone Morris
came to UVM from Lincoln University, the nation’s first degree-granting historically Black university, after
early life in Miami, Fla. His classmates in Burlington appreciated his scientific acumen, noting in the Ariel yearbook of 1923 that “his scholarly attributes have won a place with us, and will surely gain him his mark in after years. He did
indeed mark his mark. Settling in Bayonne, N.J., within sight of the towers of Manhattan, Alexander became a fixture in his community, including three terms of service as president of the medical staff of Bayonne Hospital, and is credited with instrumental
work in desegregating theaters and restaurants in the city. Two years after his 1979 retirement, Bayonne dedicated David Morris Park in his honor.
Douglas Johnson’s second daughter, Myrtle Douglas Johnson
to the College of Medicine in 1949, and received her M.D. degree in 1953, the first one. awarded by UVM to an African American woman. She went on to practice anesthesiology for more than 40 years on Long Island in New York, and early in her career
worked with fellow anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, developer of the scale used to this day to rate the health of newborns. Dr. Johnson’s son, Michael Newstein, also became a physician.
* * *
These dozen pioneering individuals broke the color line at the College of Medicine, but it was many years before the institution made any true progress on diversity. Just as it was not until the 1960s that African American medical faculty would be
hired at UVM, it took until the 1970s for any other medical students of color to graduate, and till the 1990s for the next Black woman to earn her M.D. Their achievement serves to underscore the fact that the work is far from done.