Online exhibit honors San Antonio’s African-American medical pioneers

SAAACAM highlights ‘Barrier Breakers’ for Black History Month

African-American physicians who made in-roads in their respective fields are highlighted in “Barrier Breakers: Pioneers in Medicine,” an online exhibit for Black History Month created by the San Antonio African-American Community Archive and Museum.

SAN ANTONIO – Long before civil rights and equal opportunity, African-American physicians were caring for San Antonio’s African-American community.

They and several others who made in-roads in their respective fields are highlighted in “Barrier Breakers: Pioneers in Medicine,” an online exhibit for Black History Month created by the San Antonio African-American Community Archive and Museum.

“I could not just stop thinking about how courageous and how brave every single one of those individuals was to stand in the face of so much adversity, to stand in the face of so many barriers to being an individual in medicine, and during those times,” Temi Adejuyigbe, a fourth-year medical student at the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, said after seeing the exhibit.

Profiles in the exhibit include Dr. Greene J. Starnes, the city’s first African-American surgeon. Dr. Ruth Ann Bellinger and Dr. Charles A. Whittier Jr., who preceded her, were the first African-Americans admitted to the Bexar County Medical Society, and Dr. Robert L.M. Hillard, who the exhibit said is responsible for delivering over 10,000 babies.

Adejuyigbe said she can especially relate to Hillard.

“I’m really excited to be hopefully joining the OB-GYN field and making a difference in the lives of women,” Adejuyigbe said.

A first generation American whose parents came from Nigeria, Adejuyigbe said the issue of disparity in healthcare led her to medicine, probably like some of those medical pioneers.

Having spent time in Nigeria where some of her uncles are physicians, Adejuyigbe said the disparity between Nigeria and the U.S. is all too obvious, until she realized “even in this country, even in the State of Texas, there’s a huge disparity even within our own borders.”

Adejuyigbe said she wants to do her part to alleviate that disparity as a physician someday.

“I am hoping to be a part of that change and hoping to be a part of that representation for younger generations to be able to see role models in this field,” Adejuyigbe said. “I think that we have a long way to go with regards to representation of African-Americans in medicine.”

Professionally known as Dr. Lulu, an LGBTQ+ and parent coach, Dr. Uchenna Umeh said she was happy to see the exhibit.

“It’s a good thing to see people that came before you to make you know that or feel that you’re not alone and you’re standing on their shoulders,” she said.

Lulu said growing up in Nigeria she envisioned herself walking the halls of Howard University even though she’d never been to America.

Her dream became a reality. After studying at Howard University Hospital, she became a pediatrician, who after 30 years is now semi-retired.

Much like the medical pioneers profiled in the SAAACAM exhibit, Lulu said, “There’s a lot to be said about having vision and just self-belief that I could do this no matter what anybody says.”

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.