Black History Month: Donald Love, Esther Johnson, and the staff of Duke Medical Center

Dr. W. Delano Meriwether, the first black student admitted to the Duke School of Medicine, came to Duke in 1963. Dr. Charles Johnson, the first black faculty member in a tenure track position, came to Duke in 1970. While black students and faculty were unfortunately not welcomed to Duke until more recently in history, African Americans have been a part of the Duke Medical Center since the very beginning. 

Intercom article, November 18, 1970

In 1930, when the hospital and the School of Medicine were about to open, Donald Love was busy with the many necessary preparations for the new hospital wards. Love is considered the first African American hire. He was hired in 1930 and worked at Duke until his retirement in 1974. In a 1970 issue of the Intercom, Donald Love recounts the large amount of tasks required to open the hospital and his role in readying the hospital for opening. He also reflects on the changes he has seen in forty years working at Duke. Click on the images to enlarge and read the entire article. 

 Intercom article, November 18, 1970


Intercom article, December 1, 1966

Esther Johnson is another example of a longstanding Duke employee who provided outstanding service to the hospital community. She began in the housekeeping department in 1945 and quickly moved to the Department of Physical Therapy where she worked for many years. The 1966 Intercom article shown to the right provides a wonderful tribute to her dedicated work and importance to the physical therapy department. Work that did not go unnoticed-- Johnson was named Outstanding Employee of the Month in April 1959. She also received the Golden Crutch Award from the physical therapy class of 1974. One member of the department who has contributed the most to the physical therapy students was given the award each year. 

While there were many black employees working at Duke Hospital since its founding, it is critical to remember that the hospital was not fully integrated until 1965. Below is a page from the October 1958 issue of the Intercom. While the Duke Medical Center is a singular entity or group, the celebrations or picnics are plural. The photographs of the white employees and the photographs of the black employees are separated on the page. Throughout the 1950s, the Intercom documents these annual staff picnics with collages of pictures. The exact formats and designs vary, but the segregation remains constant. 

Intercom article, October 1, 1958