Black History: Special Delivery!!
Roscoe Conkling Giles (1890 – 1970) was born in Albany, New York. He was the first African American to become certified by the American Board of Surgery in 1938 at the age of 27. After graduating from high school in Brooklyn, NY, he was awarded a scholarship to Cornell University and would be the first African American to earn a medical degree there. He was 16 years old when he began his studies at Cornell. While there, in 1907, Giles became one of the first members of African American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. which was started at Cornell in 1906.
He served as the second president of the fraternity in 1910. Giles earned a B.A. degree from Cornell in 1911. He then was the first African American to enter medical school at Cornell. The only African America in his class, Giles was encouraged to leave Cornell repeatedly and even received death threats. It was also difficult for him to obtain internships; being repeatedly denied opportunities due to his race. Very few medical practices accepted African Americans at that time. Finally, he was given an opportunity by Provident Hospital in Chicago, IL, which served both African American and white patients. Provident was founded, and owned by African American physician, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Giles graduated from medical school in 1915.
It was difficult for Giles to find employment due to his race. Yet, he persevered and in 1917 civil rights leader, Oscar DePriest assisted him in getting an appointment as a Chicago Health Department Supervisor. He was heavily involved in the postgraduate training of African American medical students at Provident Hospital in Chicago. The program was the first of its kind in the United States. As a physician, Giles was well known for his intentionality in providing care to his patients. He also married to Frances Reeder in 1917. The couple had 3 children: Roscoe C. Giles (died as an infant), Oscar DePriest Giles, and Roscoe C. Giles II.
Giles was elected president of the National Medical Association (NMA) in 1937. NMA was a professional association for African American physicians. At the time, African Americans were not allowed membership in the American Medical Association. He was appointed to a committee to help eliminate the practice of listing physicians as “colored” in American Medical Association directories. The designation was finally removed in 1940. Giles also served as part of the Army Medical Corps during World War II. Following World War II, Giles operated a successful private practice until his death in 1970 at the age of 79.
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