Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright: The First Black Police Surgeon of New York City

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Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright: The First Black Police Surgeon of New York City

Louis T. Wright (1891-1952) was born in La Grange, Georgia, on July 23, 1891. He was the son of Dr. Ceah Ketcham and Lulu M. (Tompkins) Wright. His father was a graduate of Meharry Medical College in 1881; however, he practiced medicine for only a few years prior to entering the ministry.(2) Louis T. Wright's mother was employed as a school teacher.(3) When Wright was four years old his father took seriously ill. Shortly afterward, he died. Four years later, Wright's mother married Dr. William Fletcher Penn, who was a graduate of Yale Medical School in 1898.(4) Wright and Dr. Penn developed a very close relationship. The latter inspired and encouraged Louis T. Wright to study medicine.(5)

Wright was educated at a so-called "Negro institution" in the South. Louis T. Wright was academically prepared in the elementary, secondary and college departments at Clark University in Atlanta, Georgia. He was an outstanding student at this institution. Wright graduated valedictorian of his class. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree in 1911, he applied for admission to the Harvard Medical School. When Wright presented himself at the medical school, Dr. Otto Folin gave him an examination in chemistry.(6) This chemistry professor"....rested his [Wright's] admission on an impromptu oral examination...."(7) Wright passed the examination and was admitted to the medical school. "He knew his chemistry," Roy Wilkins said.(8)

Once enrolled in Harvard Medical School, he experienced a certain degree of racial discrimination. This racial discrimination appeared in the following manner:

....he could not do his deliveries, as a student in obstetrics at the Harvard Medical School, at the Boston Lying-In Hospital. In characteristic fashion young Wright replied that he had paid his tuition and was going to get what the catalogue called for, namely, deliveries at Boston Lying-In Hospital. Needless to say, he got what he was entitled to and the practice of having Negro students deliver babies with a Negro physician, separate from the rest of the class, was abolished.(9)

However, this was not the only form of racial discrimination that Wright was to experience while at Harvard. Even though he graduated from the Harvard Medical School ranked number four in his graduating class, Wright "...was not permitted to march in the procession according to his rank."(10) As a result of this, he thought seriously about boycotting the commencement exercises but Wright's consideration for his parents prevented him from doing so.(11) Wright's Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree was conferred upon him with honors, cum laude. He, unlike William A. Hinton, was not the only Black person in his graduating class. The other Black to graduate from the medical school was Clyde Donnell.(12)

In spite of the fact that Dr. Wright graduated Harvard with honors and was only 0.27 of a point behind the person who graduated number one, he was not admitted to any of the city hospitals in Boston as an intern. Therefore, he had to go to Washington, D.C.. Dr. Wright served his internship at Freedmens Hospital.(13) Freedmens was founded in 1863 and was the first hospital where Black physicians could treat patients.(14)

After Dr. Louis T. Wright's internship, he want back to Atlanta where he practiced medicine with his stepfather. This young doctor practiced for about one year prior to accepting a commission, as a first lieutenant, in the Medical Section Officers Reserve Corps of the Army in June of 1917. Dr. Wright was put on active duty in August of 1917. He was assigned to the Medical Officers' Training Camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa.(15) While in the military, Dr. Wright participated in front-line action in France.(16) Dr. Wright's friend (Roy Wilkins) describes one front-line experience in this way:

...during his [Wright's] service in World War I his colonel sent him to the front line for service in the expectation and the hope that a lucky German bullet would take him away. …

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