The history of the Surgical Section of the National Medical Association (SSNMA) is an amalgamation of black surgeons’ achievements opposed by the forces of segregation but stimulated and nurtured by the desire for professional competence. As a major section of the National Medical Association (NMA), the Surgical Section has contributed significantly to the history of the NMA; hence the history of this Section and the NMA are inseparable. The SSNMA is “the” major organization uniting black surgeons. It serves as a national forum for peer review and professional development. It remains as the only national organization in which black surgeons can be assured of full participation and an opportunity to contribute to its leadership and scientific programs. The black surgeon shares his experiences among highly critical peers with whom he can readily identify and respect.
The organizing meeting was held during the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, which was also the occasion and site at which Dr. Booker T. Washington delivered his famous speech encouraging development. Dr. I. Garland Penn, an Episcopalian layman, had called together a group of men who “formed themselves into a body which took the name of the National Medical Association of physicians, surgeons, dentists and pharmacists.” This group chose surgeon R.F. Boyd of Nashville as its first president and surgeon Daniel Hale Williams of Chicago as its first vice-president. The meetings were held annually from 1895 to 1903 except for four years. Since 1903 the Association has met each year without interruption. The 1940 constitution reflected the change of constituency to physicians and basic scientists only.
The Surgical Section was officially identified in the first constitution of the NMA in 1906. The physician component consisted of both Medical and Surgical sections. Dr. R. Francis of Washington, D.C. was elected the first chairman of the Medical Section and Dr. John E. Hunter of Lexington, Kentucky was elected the first chairman of the Surgical Section. The early meetings of the SSNMA included practitioners of various types of surgery and general surgeons. As specialization and specialty societies emerged, surgical specialty units were developed in the NMA. The Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Section was the first to have a program separate from the General Surgery Section in the 1930’s, while Obstetrics and Gynecology, Urology, and Orthopaedics remained as active participants of the General Surgery Section until 1940. The new constitution gave recognition to these subspecialties by designing sections for each. In 1982 the Neurosurgery Section was formed in conjunction with neurology. The Plastic Surgery Section was established in 1984. The Trauma symposium was established in 1985. The Society of Black Academic Surgeons was begun in 1989. The William E. Matory lecture was established in 1991. The laparoscopy training program was begun in 1991. The Critical Care Symposium was first held in 1993.
Printed with permission from the authors of A CENTURY OF BLACK SURGEONS: THE U.S.A. EXPERIENCE.