Black History Month at Michigan Medicine: A time for reflection, recognition and celebration

February 1, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees, ,

About a 3-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Michigan Medicine recounts prominent Black leaders and visionaries who have made history.
  • From the first Black man to graduate from the U-M Medical School in 1872 to the head of the first chapter of the National Black Nurses Association in Ann Arbor in 2022, Michigan Medicine has been home to numerous pioneers and pathbreakers. 
  • Numerous events are happening on Ann Arbor’s campus as part of U-M’s Black History Month celebration. This year’s theme is “Rooting for Everybody Black.”

February is here and it’s time to celebrate Black History Month. Michigan Medicine has a long and complex history when it comes to the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff. 


William Henry Fitzbutler, M.D., became the first Black man to graduate from the U-M Medical School in 1872. One of the four ‘houses’ to which U-M medical students now belong is named for him, as is a professorship in the Department of Internal Medicine.


Sophia Bethena Jones, M.D., was the first Black woman to graduate from the U-M Medical School in 1885. She came to Michigan from Canada, frustrated with the University of Toronto’s limited medical training program for women. 

Humble beginnings

From humble beginnings, the influence Black students, medical professionals and staff at U-M have had is immense. And likewise, Michigan’s commitment and welcoming atmosphere has been among one of the best when compared to other U.S. medical schools.

For instance, in 1920, U-M’s special linkage with historically black Lincoln University outside Philadelphia was noted by AMA’s Council on Medical Education and Hospital. Lincoln had sent several students to Michigan for medical school.

Just four years later, Marjorie Franklin would enroll as the first African-American student at the U-M Hospital School for Nurses, which is now known as the U-M School of Nursing.

Albert Wheeler at his desk at U-M in November 1968, seven years before he would become Ann Arbor’s first Black mayor. Ann Arbor News archives courtesy of

By 1952, Michigan hired its first African-American faculty member, Albert Wheeler, Ph.D., into the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Wheeler would later become mayor of Ann Arbor in 1975 during his second career in social activism and politics.

“A persistent and vocal leader who raised community consciousness and fought for human rights, Wheeler pioneered in the field of higher education to grant full access and equal opportunities to all minorities,” said U-M President James J. Duderstadt at the time.

More than just nurses and doctors

Michigan Medicine’s Black history extends beyond nurses and doctors, too. In 1959, Jimmy Crudup was hired as a technician to set up a vascular surgery laboratory for Gardner Child, M.D. Though he never had formal medical training, his self-taught skills in surgical technique and education led to his becoming acclaimed as one of the finest surgical teachers at U-M for 30 years.

In 1969, 21 African-American students enrolled in the U-M Medical School. This was the fourth largest enrollment number of Black students at non-historically Black institutions. Moreover, at the time, U-M was thought to have graduated more African-American physicians in total than any school except historically-Black Meharry Medical College (Nashville, Tenn.) and Howard University (Washington, D.C.). 

The firsts continued into the late 20th century, which included U-M Medical School graduate Alexa Canady, M.D., becoming the first African-American female neurosurgeon in the U.S. in 1981. 

Rhetaugh Dumas, Ph.D., joined the U-M School of Nursing as its first, and U-M’s first, African-American dean before becoming vice provost for health affairs from 1994-97.

Most recently, LaToya Freeman, D.N.P., APRN, ACCNS-AG, CPPS, HNB-BC, PCCN, clinical nurse specialist for the Adult Hospitals Medical, Emergency & Psychiatric Services subsegment and UH 8C, became the inaugural and founding president of the Ann Arbor chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, which was established last year.

These are just some of the stories of pioneering black faculty, staff and students at Michigan Medicine. You can read more about the Pioneers And Pathbreakers: Black History Milestones At Michigan Medicine.

Rooting for Everybody Black

This year, Black History Month is an intentional partnership between The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) and student organizations, Support for Incoming Black Students (S.I.B.S.) and the Black Student Union (BSU). This year’s theme is Rooting for Everybody Black. 

All Michigan Medicine staff, faculty and learners are invited to attend campuswide events to be held throughout February.

Every day, Michigan Medicine is committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, and it has made significant progress in recent years. The proportion of Black students, faculty and staff at the university has increased, and the university has implemented programs and initiatives to support them.

Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the history of Black students, faculty and staff at Michigan Medicine, and to recognize the contributions that they have made to the university and the community. It is also a reminder that there is still much work to be done to ensure that all members of the Michigan Medicine community are treated with dignity and respect.