The forgotten legacies of Queen’s Black medical students

Edward Thomas reveals the incredible forgotten lives and legacies of Queen’s Black medical students from 1900-1918

Edward Thomas' research has focused on the lives and legacies of Queen's early black medical students.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

In 1918, the Queen’s Faculty of Medicine implemented a ban on the admittance of Black students. Although some completed their education at Queen’s, a number of students at the time were forced to find new schools.

On the Queen’s Encyclopedia, the story goes that the expulsion was a reaction to the complaints of wounded soldiers returning from the war who were demanding treatment from white doctors.

While this story seems sadly plausible, Edward Thomas, the assistant director of industry partnerships here at Queen’s, noticed some inconsistencies with the story.

“If you look at some of the graduate photos you can kind of unravel the ‘they were all kicked out’ story pretty quickly” he told The Journal in an interview.

According to Thomas, it wasn’t wounded returning soldiers who said this, but rather increasing pressure from the American Medical Association to expel Black medical students from universities.

While Queen’s stance publicly was the expulsion of all Black students, it’s more aptly described in private as their having pressured students into leaving. This means that after 1918, there was still a group of black medical students who graduated up until 1922.

What Thomas found so remarkable was the incredible lives and legacies of these students. He found these people aren’t referenced in any Queen’s records.

While Thomas’ research began by looking at factual errors in the existing narrative, he’s since focused mostly on the lives and legacies of the students Queen’s abandoned. He presented his findings in the Robert Sutherland Hall on Feb. 15 at an event hosted by the Queen’s African and Caribbean Students Association. These are some of the stories he told.

Dr. Clement Courtney Ligoure, Meds ’16

Before an early death in 1922, Dr. Clement Courtney Ligoure lived a life of service. After graduating from Queen’s in 1916, he set up a medical practice in Halifax. As a Black man, Dr. Ligoure wasn’t granted hospital privileges and established a private surgical practice in his home called the Amanda Hospital. According to Thomas, this practice was the most prominent medical facility for people in Halifax’s north end.

In 1917, the largest man-made explosion took place in the Halifax Harbour. Through his hospital, Dr. Ligoure worked day and night to treat some of the over 9,000 injured people.

In addition to this work, Dr. Ligoure was the publisher of the Atlantic Advocate. This paper played an important role in the lives of Black people during the First World War and was a voice for immigrants from the West Indies in Eastern Canada.

During the World Wars, the Canadian Military allowed arbitrary discrimination by commanders against enlisted troops. In the First World War, this meant there was a widespread refusal to allow Black men to enlist. Along with Rev. William White and J.R.B Whitney, Dr. Ligoure co-founded the No. 2 Construction Battalion, which was the first segregated unit for Black soldiers.

Dr. Hugh Gordon Hylvestra Cummins, Meds ’19

After graduating in 1919, Dr. Cummins established a medical practice in Bridgetown, Barbados and became an active community organizer. He was the leader of an organization that Thomas referred to as “Land Ship,” because it acted as a social club, cultural hub and a tool for political organization.

In the late 1930s, Cummins rose to prominence as a co-founder of the Barbados Labour Party.

During his time in this sphere, Dr. Cummins had a powerful impact on the political reforms of late-colonial Barbados and the Caribbean. Most famously, he’s credited with abolishing the Located Labourers Act, which was a piece of legislation that tied farm workers to plantations and perpetuated generational indentured servitude.

He eventually became the premier of Barbados in 1958. Along with Jamaican lawyer and stateman Norman Manley, Dr. Cummins negotiated a lasting peace in 1958 amongst white and Black British residents in Barbados after the infamous Notting Hill Riots in the UK.

Dr. Simeon Augustus Hayes, Meds ’20

Following his graduation in 1920, Dr. Hayes returned to his home country of Trinidad and established a medical practice in Port-of-Spain. In the 1930s, Hayes was approached by a successful entrepreneur named Cyril Lucius Duprey. Duprey was looking for directors for a new locally-owned insurance company called the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO). CLICO would cater to the West Indies, with the aim of providing low-hassle claim settlements for lower-income people. The success of the operation was doubted by many, who lacked confidence in the ability of Black founders providing for mostly Black clientele.

When CLICO opened in 1937 it was a huge success, pushing out foreign-controlled competition. The company continued to grow well beyond Hayes’ death in 1957 and its successor firm CL Financial was worth $100 billion before the 2008 financial crisis.

Dr. Robert Wellesley Bailey, Meds ’04

After graduating from Queen’s Medical School in 1904, Dr. Bailey moved to Philadelphia to begin working at Frederick Douglas Memorial Hospital. This hospital became famous because it was an important centre for the clinical training of Black nurses and doctors.

Dr. Bailey was a close friend and supporter of W.E. DuBois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an legendary American civil rights organization. Dr. Bailey and DuBois met through Bailey’s wife, Ellen Pearl Walker, whose father was a close friend and supporter of DuBois.

Through his research, Thomas discovered that the Baileys had taken a quiet vacation to Kingston following a Ku Klux Klan rally during which they were corresponding with DuBois. Thomas suspects that Dr. Bailey may have been reporting on the act of terrorism for the NAACP.

Dr. Hubert Evarist Cicero Cezair (never graduated from Queen’s)

Dr. Cezair left Queen’s after the ban was announced in 1918 to earn a triple qualification from the University of Edinburgh in medicine and surgery. After completing his education, he established a practice in Manchester, England.

At the time, Manchester was the hub of movement for social progress for Africans. Dr. Cezair became an important doctor in the community, and his home became a gathering place for the Caribbean diaspora, especially during the Second World War

Dr. Curtis Theophilius Skeete (never graduated from Queen’s)

After the 1918 race ban was announced, Dr. Skeete left Queen’s and completed his medical education at Tufts in 1925. After briefly working in Boston, he began his own medical practice in Freeport, Long Island.

In 1942, he moved his family to Long Island. With both him and his wife Myrtle having an interest in literature, the Skeetes started a book club in 1946. Although racial discrimination often dominated the discussions at these meetings, the two decided to start an NAACP chapter. With Dr. Skeete as the East Long Island branch’s founding president, the association grew to 1,500 members.

This chapter played a central role in the network of NAACP chapter on Long Island, which was the hot spot for the civil rights campaign in the 1940s and 50s. Upon his death at 87 years old, the New York Times recognized the enduring effects of Skeete’s organization and leadership.

Dr. Albion Somsersale Chance, Meds ’22

After graduating from Queen’s in 1922, Dr. Chance moved to Montreal to complete his residency at Royal Victoria Hospital.

In the 1930s, he moved to New York and married Lucille Chance, a prominent lawyer and entrepreneur. Dr. Chance was an important figure in Harlem after the Harlem Renaissance and became an officer of the Colored Actors and Performers Association, which represented more than 1,500 artists.

In 1939, the Chances bought a house on the Hudson River. They were the first Black family in the region and encouraged famous psychologists Mamie and Kenneth Clark to buy a house there as well. Prior to Dr. Chance’s death, the Clarks, the Chances and the small circle of Black families in the Hudson community attracted the greatest thinkers of the age, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Frederick Barrington Holder, Meds’16, MD’19

After enlisting in the Canadian army in January of 1918, Dr. Holder finished his MD while serving in the war. In the army, he experienced discrimination and served in the rank of private despite being a qualified doctor.

Eventually, Dr. Holder moved to Halifax and took over a medical practice at 16 ½ Gottingen Street, only two doors down from Viola Davis who would later become Viola Desmond.

In 1938, Dr. Holder founded the Coloured Education Centre that provided financial and emotional support to Viola Desmond during her many years of legal battles. It was also the late Dr. Holder’s medical office that Desmond turned to, to treat the injuries of her arrest and jailing.

Rev. Arthur Cornelius Terry-Thompson

Rev. Terry-Thompson is one of the two students to not complete his medical studies after the implementation of the ban in 1918. After the announcement he made his way around the world and eventually relocated to New York and started working for the postal service. While working, Terry-Thompson enrolled at Endich Theological Seminary and earned his Doctor of Divinity in 1939.

Rev. Terry-Thompson was active in the Black religious community and founded the St. James Afrcan Orthodox Church in New York. He also wrote a widely-cited treatise titled History of the African Orthodox Church, which is about how to religiously seek a way out of segregation and its disadvantages.

Dr. Alvinus Calder, Meds ’19

Dr. Calder overcame many obstacles in order to obtain his medical education. Initially he attended St. Michaels College at the University of Toronto but wasn’t allowed to stay out of concerns that his presence might offend the white students who lived there. Before Queen’s would allow him to study, he was required to complete missing science courses at a high school in Hamilton.

When the ban was enacted in 1918, Calder refused to leave the University and completed his residency under the supervision of a private obstetrician through the height of the Spanish Flu Epidemic.

Calder moved to Sydney, Nova Scotia to set up a practice. While there, he worked with the St. Philips African Orthodox Church to establish a permanent home and in doing so provided a religious home for the West Indian Episcopalians who were facing discrimination in other churches. Calder spent his life advocating for religious and ethnic engagement.

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One hundred years after the ban was implemented, Edward Thomas isn’t sure why Queen’s hasn’t yet acknowledged these students or considered how the University can make amends with his history. However, his research has hopefully sparked some action.

In a recent post on his blog, Principal Daniel Woolf said he’s “both fascinated and saddened by what [Thomas] has uncovered, and hope[s] to work with [Thomas] and others to acknowledge these very troubling events in our history, the legacies of the students we abandoned and make some kind of amends.”

Thomas’ goal in his research thus far has been to start accounting for the cost of the race ban. In his estimation, Queen’s was on track to be a critical actor in the civil rights movement and the postcolonial movement.

“We were on track probably to be a critical node, quite likely in the civil rights movement, particularly in the United States but also elsewhere in the 60s and we really were not. That seems like a very obvious path we were on. It looks like we were positioned to be a critical node in the postcolonial conversation at least in the Anglosphere between the early 50s and the early 70s and we were not and that’s a pretty stark realization.”

“The cost of what we didn’t accomplish is just huge.”

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