Honoring Black Leaders in Public Health, Government, and IT: Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller

DLH is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the legacy of African-American leaders in public health, government, and information technology. Click here to view more entries in our series.

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller is widely acknowledged as the first African-American psychiatrist. A leader in early dementia research, he published what is now recognized to be the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease — a thorough reporting of the ninth case ever described. 

A Liberian immigrant, Dr. Fuller was one of five research assistants personally selected by renowned German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer to work at the newly created Royal Psychiatric Hospital in Munich. In 1912 he published his seminal work – a two part, comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease as it was understood at the time. In addition to reviewing 11 previously known cases, he described the ninth recorded case, that of a 56-year-old man with a two-year case of mental impairment, receptive dysphasia, and apraxia, in vivid detail. An autopsy revealed extensive plaque and intracellular ‘Alzheimer degeneration’. This groundbreaking work was published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases.

Dr. Fuller became an associate professor of pathology and neurology at Boston University in 1921. As the only African American on faculty at the time, he found himself subjected to daily indignities and racism. He was paid less than his white colleagues, and was not formally acknowledged on the university’s payroll. He carried out the responsibilities of chair of the Neurology Department and yet was not actually granted the title of ‘Chair’. 

Today, a portrait of Dr. Fuller hangs at American Psychological Association (APA) headquarters in Washington, D.C. in recognition of his legacy as a ‘founding father’ of psychology.  

Learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sources:

Recognizing African‐American contributions to neurology: The role of Solomon Carter Fuller (1872–1953) in Alzheimer’s disease research,’ by Hamzah Mohammed, Alzheimer’s Association

Solomon Carter Fuller: First Black Psychiatrist,’ Lucy Ozarin, M.D., Psychiatric News

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