Robert Tanner Freeman (1846–1873) After being selected as one of "the first six-persons" to enter Harvard's Dental Program. He shortly became the first African American to graduate with a dental degree in the United States on March 10, 1869.
Freeman was born near Washington, D.C. in the year of 1846. He was the son of a carpenter who had bought his family's freedom then moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. During his late teens he found and worked for a mentor named Dr.Noble, a white dentist in Washington. Before Freeman was accepted into Harvard University School of Dental Medicine he was rejected by two other institutions because of the color of his skin. Harvard School of Dental Medicine introduced a new faculty with a new unbiased policy towards race. Racial discrimination in dental schools was on the way towards being eliminated. Freeman was then accepted after being interviewed by the first dean, Dr.Nathan Cooley Keep alongside five others becoming one of "the first six" to study at Harvard Dental School. In the year 1869 on March 10 Tanner became the first African American to graduate from that school also becoming the first African American awarded a dental degree in the U.S.
Freeman graduated from Harvard Dental School becoming a DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry) by obtaining a dental degree. He then returned to Washington D.C to start off his dental practice where he practiced in the same building as his mentor Dr.Noble. Fours years removed from graduating and practicing professionally, Freeman unfortunately contracted a water borne plague that resulted in his untimely death on June 10, 1873.
Freeman success was influential in serving his African-American community, he paved the way for a much needed cultural and political change. Freeman was a pioneer for dentistry for minorities. He was the grandfather of Robert C. Weaver, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, serving as Lyndon B. Johnson secretary of Housing & Urban Development.
History of dentistry in the African-American community
In the early 1800s it was noted in history that dentists were trained through apprenticeships and practiced unprofessionally. Prior to the late 1880s there were very little trained black dentist practitioners. In black communities located in the southern parts of the United States prior to forays of dental practices, it was noted that selective African-Americans offered an acceptable form of traditional dental services. The first dental school was, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery was founded in 1840 in Maryland. African-Americans were not accepted for training and it was not until Harvard founded its dental school 27 years later. Robert Tanner Freeman was the first black to be accepted into their program. His acceptance changed the culture of dentistry forever. Shortly after a second African American by the name of George Franklin Grant also graduated from Harvard Dental School in 1870. Franklin was then appointed a relevant position in the school's dental faculty, becoming the first black faculty member at Harvard University. Since then trained black dentists were rare entering the early 19th century prior to the establishment of two of the major institutions that produce predominantly black dentists. Howard University's Dental College in Washington, D.C. and the dental department of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Robert T. Freeman liberation from racial discrimination restrictions revolutionized dentistry for the African-American community. Better predental education and student dental recruitment soon transpired, and later advances in integrated education at so-called "white" dental schools assisted black student enrollment and graduation.
Modern African-American influence on dentistry
Ever since the racial discrimination in dentistry has been nullified because of pioneers from the black community such as Robert T. Freeman and George Franklin Grant . Today African Americans over the years have held and obtained important positions in dentistry. After the National Dental Association foundation was founded in 1971 where by Dr. Clifton O. Dummett a black man served as a member on the board of directors, NDA editor and the third vice president. The foundation made marks on the black community by distributing scholarships and grants to worthy black aspiring dental students, auxiliaries for research and graduate studies for training in dental specialties. Many blacks have since assumed the roles of deans & professors and other professionals at some of the most prominent dental institutions all over the US. A noted breakthrough is, Dean Ronald Johnson at the University of Texas was appointed the vice president of Health and Medical affairs at that Institution. Also Konnetta Putman became the first black president of the American Dental Hygiene Association