Indiana’s 1st black physician is honored with headstone

U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection

U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection

Indiana’s first African-American physician is being honored on Tuesday, more than a century after his death, with a commemorative grave marker.

The unmarked grave that is believed to belong to Dr. Samuel A. Elbert, a physician who faced racial barriers attaining his medical degree at the Medical College of Indiana, will finally be turned into a headstone at the Crown Hill Cemetery.

The Indianapolis Historical Society along with the Aesculapian Medical Society have been working together to push the installment of the marker recognizing Elbert’s achievements as one of the first black medical pioneers.

Senior archivist from the Indianapolis Historical Society Wilma Moore said, “Grave markers always suggest legacy and legacy is important to let folks know that you were here. They also suggest what you did when you were here and that you will not be forgotten. Certainly in Dr. Elbert’s case his legacy is great.”

According to the Indianapolis Star, Elbert challenged the the Medical College of Indiana in 1871, after they refused to recognize him as a student or grant him a medical degree despite paying tuition and attending classes. He eventually won the case, making him the first licensed African-American physician in Indiana.

Elbert’s prominence in the medical community grew from serving for one term as president of the Indianapolis Board of Health to being appointed by then-President Benjamin Harrison to serve as the local pension surgeon in the late 1800s. He ended up declining the appointment after receiving opposition from whites in the medical community.

Elbert’s grave marker will be unveiled at the Crown Hill Cemetery in a formal ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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