Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, MD 1857, the first African American graduate of Yale Medical School, was the first person of African descent to receive a degree in any discipline from Yale. Only a very small number of African Americans had previously received medical degrees from U.S. institutions before Dr. Creed, and none from the Ivy schools.
His Yale MD thesis was entitled “On the Blood” – a discourse on the physiology and chemistry of blood and circulation. Despite what Dr. Creed described in one of his letters to Douglas as a prevailing national sentiment of “prejudice against color,” he reported, “I never experienced any other than the most polite treatment from my fellow class-mates.”
Dr. Creed remained in New Haven after graduation from Yale and developed a large, successful, ethnically-mixed medical practice. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he wrote to Connecticut Governor Buckingham requesting a commission to serve, but was refused because of his race. In 1863, President Lincoln authorized the recruitment of African American troops and the Connecticut governor issued a call to arms to men of color. Creed wrote, “On every side we behold colored sons rallying to the sound of Liberty and Union.” He was appointed 1st Lieutenant and Surgeon of the 31st Regiment U.S. Colored Troops 1864 (30th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment) and served until the end of the Civil War.
Dr. Creed married Drucilla Wright with whom he had four sons. After her death, he married Mary Paul of Brooklyn, New York with whom he had six children. He briefly practiced in New York but returned to New Haven for the rest of his career. Cited frequently in the local news and The New York Times for his medical and forensic skills, he was consulted for a surgical opinion at the time of President Garfield’s assassination.
Dr. Creed died from “Bright’s disease” on August 8th, 1900 and was buried in the family plot in Grove Street Cemetery.
Director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ursula (pictured here) leads CDC’s portfolio of programs to prevent chronic disease and promote health. She recently traveled to Pine Ridge, S.D., to address health issues among Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux, and stopped at this burial site that contains 146 people killed during the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
Photo credit: Myra Tucker