The 2014 honorees represent medical and healthcare professionals who have made significant contributions to racial equality in Arkansas.
Healthcare has long been a civil rights issue. In the age of segregation, many blacks were denied healthcare by white physicians and hospitals under Jim Crow laws. African American physicians—such as Cleon A. Flowers, Sr., and John Marshall Robinson—played important roles in serving the black community. Nurse Lena Lowe Jordan founded the Lena Jordan Hospital in Little Rock in the l930s. Edith Mae Irby desegregated the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock in 1948. Dr. Irby paved the way for other black students and professors at the school. Thomas A. Bruce promoted access to quality healthcare to the underserved. Henry W. Foster became dean of Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. Billy Ray Thomas and Phillip Leon Rayford worked to increase underrepresented groups in the medical profession. Samuel Lee Kountz pioneered organ transplants. Jocelyn Elders, a UAMS graduate and director of the Arkansas Department of Health, served as the surgeon general of the United States during the presidency of Bill Clinton.
Dr. Thomas A. Bruce has spent most of his professional career promoting access and quality healthcare to underserved populations. He has served as a professor of medicine and as dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He helped create and lead the Faye W. Boozman College of Public Health at UAMS and served as dean pro tem and associate dean of Clinton School of Public Service.
Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders was the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology. She was appointed by President William J. Clinton to serve as the 16th Surgeon General of the United States. She was the first African American and only the second woman to head the U.S. Public Health Service.
Dr. Cleon A. Flowers Sr. is known as the “Godfather of Arkansas Medicine.” He grew up in Stamps, Arkansas, and graduated from Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a major, he returned to Pine Bluff to practice medicine and often accepted livestock or homegrown vegetables as payment for services from many poor black residents.
Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr. was the only black person in his 1958 class of 90 students at the University of Arkansas Medical School. He was nominated by President William J. Clinton to become the U.S. Surgeon General in 1995. Foster served as dean of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a professor emeritus at the college.
Dr. Edith Irby Jones became the first African American to be admitted to the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas in 1948 and the first African American to graduate from the college in 1952. After practicing several years in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jones and her family moved to Houston, Texas. In 1985, she became the first woman to lead the National Medical Association, an organization of black physicians.
Lena Lowe Jordan, RN came to Little Rock by way of Georgia and began her nursing career in Pulaski County in the 1920s. She became the head nurse at Mosaic Templars State Hospital in 1927. In the 1930s she founded the Lena Jordan Hospital, which provided general care to black people in Little Rock who were not served by all-white medical institutions and facilities.
Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz was one of the earliest black students admitted to the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1954. He was rejected when he first applied but was admitted after earning a chemistry degree from the University of Arkansas. He is best known for having performed the world’s first kidney transplant and more than 500 such surgeries.
Phillip Leon Rayford, Ph.D. was a former chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the College of Medicine at UAMS, as well as former associate dean of minority affairs. As associate dean he worked tirelessly to successfully recruit and retain minority students in the College of Medicine and Graduate School. (Photo courtesy of UAMS Library Historical Research Center)
Dr. John Marshall Robinson opened a medical practice at Seventh and Main Streets in Little Rock in 1914, where he conducted surgeries in his office for African Americans since there were no hospitals that would serve them in the city. In 1918, Robinson and three other black physicians founded Bush Memorial Hospital. (Photo courtesy of UAMS Historical Research Center)
Dr. Billy Ray Thomas of Tyronza, Arkansas, was the first to go to college in his family. He is a highly accomplished neonatologist and serves as the inaugural vice chancellor for diversity at UAMS. Thomas has a special commitment to increasing underrepresented groups in the medical profession. (Photo courtesy of UAMS Library Historical Research Center)
Thank you to our event sponsors for 2014: Arkansas Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association; Central Arkansas Planning and Development District; City of Little Rock; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Little Rock Alumnae Chapter; East Harding Construction; Just Communities of Arkansas; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Little Rock Alumni Chapter; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Center for Diversity Affairs.
Thank you to our student research team for 2014: LaMaya Coleman, Trevor Collins, Liz Fox, Natalie Richie, Sarah Riva, Donna L. Shelton, and Tia Woods.
Posted In: News