Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Leonidas Harris Berry (1902-1995) was an African American trailblazer in gastroscopy and endoscopy. Berry served as the president of the National Medical Association (NMA). NMA was medical association for African American physicians. Berry invented the Eder-Berry biopsy gastroscope in 1955. This invention improved the way doctors collect tissue from the stomach without surgery. He also determined that it is not the stomach that was damaged by alcoholism, but rather the liver. This discovery would change the diagnosis and treatment of the disease forever. Berry was also the first African American to present a paper before the American Medical Association.
Dr. Berry was born in Woodsdale, NC and raised in Norfolk, VA. He graduated from Wilberforce University, a historically black college (HBCU) in 1924. He then attended the University of Chicago, earning a B.S. degree, followed by earning an M.D. degree from Rush Medical College at the University of Chicago. While at Rush Medical College, Berry was required to complete a clinical clerkship. However, this opportunity was not made available to black students. Undeterred, Berry secured a clerkship on his own at Cook County Hospital. Berry also went on to earn a masters degree in pathology from the University of Illinois Medical School. He worked for a short time Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Berry later went to work at Cook County Hospital in Chicago; specializing in gastroenterology. In 1950, Dr. Berry established the Council For Biomedical Careers. This organization provided community education on topics such as nursing, dentistry, medical technology, and pharmacy. His goal was to motivate other black men to enter into bio-medical careers. Berry also led a community and faith based effort to help rehabilitate drug addicts. He also obtained government funding for “The Berry Plan” which provided medical and psychological treatment for drug addicts.
Berry retired in 1975. In addition to his medical career, Berry was active in community and civil rights endeavors. He focused much of his efforts on racial disparities present in public health that disproportionately impacted blacks. Berry is also the author of, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey: Two Centuries of An Afro American Minister’s Family” which was a genealogical history of his family, published in 1982. He and his family were long time members of the African American Episcopal Church (AME)
Dr. Berry died in 1995 at the age of 93.