THE ICON: James Durham
THE LEGACY: James Durham is believed to be the first African-American to practice medicine in the United States, even though he never earned a medical degree. Born a slave in Philadelphia, he went to New Orleans in 1783 after being sold to Dr. Robert Dow, a Scottish doctor in the city. Durham worked with him, treating slaves and free people of color, who were not allowed to see white physicians. Durham’s practice flourished but he had to stop when a New Orleans law forbade the practice of medicine without formal training. Durham disappeared in 1802. There is no definitive account of his fate thereafter, although, according to one account, he moved to Philadelphia to practice there.
THE ARTIST: Jeremy Paten, WhereYart.net
THE INSPIRATION: “I conversed with him on medicine and surgery and found him learned. I thought I could give him information concerning the treatment of disease, but I learned more from him than he could expect from me.” — Dr. Benjamin Rush, medical pioneer and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, on James Durham