Black History Month & Black Healthcare Professionals in Arkansas

The current exhibit in the UAMS History Display outside the entrance to the College of Medicine celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation and accomplishments of black health care professionals in Arkansas. The exhibit was designed by April Hughes of the Historical Research Center. February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of important people and events in the history of the African Americans.

The Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the United States was signed in 1863. In 1926, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be Negro History week. That week was chosen to recognize the contributions of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom had birthdays the first week of February. In 1970 the first Black History Month took place at Kent State University, and was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

A few people highlighted in the display are:

Edith Irby Jones, M.D. (1927) was the first African American to graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She was also the first woman to be elected President of the National Medical  Association, a medical association created because the American Medical Association would  not allow black physicians to become members. While in medical school, she was not allowed to use the same lodging, dining, or bathroom facilities as white students. In 1988 the American Society of Medicine named her Internist of the Year.

Samuel Kountz, M.D. (1930-1981) was a pioneer in kidney transplantation  research and surgery. Born in Lexa, Arkansas in 1930, Kountz attended the  University of Arkansas Medical Center’s School of Medicine in Little Rock, later renamed as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Kountz earned his M.D. in 1958 and studied the emerging field of organ transplantation from Roy Cohen beginning in 1961. Kountz transplanted a kidney from a person who was not an identical twin of the person receiving the kidney, something that had never been done before. In 1976 he performed a kidney transplant on NBC’s Today show, an event that compelled twenty thousand people to offer to donate kidneys. Dr. Kountz was elected President of the Society of University Surgeons in 1974.

Joycelyn Elders M.D. (1933) was born in Schaal, Arkansas and attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock at the age of 15, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1952. Dr. Elders obtained her medical degree from UAMS in 1960, and later advanced to full Professor in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics in 1976. She was appointed as the Director of the  Arkansas Department of Health in 1987, and served as the first African-American U.S. Surgeon General in 1993.

Visit the exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation and Black Health Care Professionals in Arkansas   until May 1, 2014, and see our website for more information about the Historical Research Center at

-Jon Goodell and April Hughes

Pictured left to right: Dr. Samuel Kountz, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, & April Hughes with the UAMS History Display.

Pictured left to right: Dr. Samuel Kountz, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, & April Hughes with the UAMS History Display.

Black History Healthcare Prof rotating banner 440x286This featured story is taken from the winter issue of UAMS Library News. View this and other Library newsletter articles here: .