By Ike Wilson
The Frederick (Md.) News-Post
FREDERICK, Md. -- Dr. Robert Slawson and his wife, Mavis, attended a lecture in 2004 about African-American physicians in the Civil War. That experience prompted the retired oncologist to write a book dedicated to black men and women who practiced medicine during the war.
Slawson, a volunteer at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, had just finished a research project on medical education in the United States. In it, the principal historians said that African-Americans were not included in formal medical education until after the Civil War.
"I decided to look into this, hopefully to prove this wrong," Slawson said. "To my surprise, I found evidence of medical graduation of several African-Americans before the war and identified more serving physicians than originally stated. This then became the basis of the book."
Slawson will speak on his book, "Prologue to Change: African-Americans in Medicine in the Civil War Era," on Feb. 23 at the museum. The book includes research on medical school graduates and the African-American men commissioned as Civil War medical officers.
The book is the first documentation of pre-Civil War medical school graduation for most of these African-Americans and discusses the entry of African-Americans into medical practice, said Slawson, who is a member of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, the Society of Civil War Surgeons, and the Society for Women and the Civil War.
"These guys are really heroes as far as I'm concerned," he said. "It was difficult for anybody to do, but it was especially difficult for them. And they deserve to be known and honored by not only African-Americans, but by the entire country.
"I've always hoped putting something like this out will bring some awareness. I'm sure there were others, but prior to the middle of the 20th century it was nearly impossible to find any information on them."
Most physicians do not realize there was a significant African-American presence in medicine at that time, Slawson said.