In February, we celebrate Black History Month. Among the great African American historical figures we know so well, we wanted to include Robert Tanner Freeman, the first African American dentist in the U.S. As his name suggests, Freeman was the son of slaves who earned their freedom and took this surname to proclaim it. After meeting local dentist Henry Bliss Noble as a youth, Freeman began apprenticing as a dentist. Numerous college applications later, Freeman became the first black student to attend Harvard Dental School and graduated in 1867, during the Civil War. Unfortunately, Freeman died only four years after his graduation. But during his short dental practice tenure, he encouraged young African Americans in his community to enter the medical field.
Freeman’s tenacity extended to his grandson, Robert C. Weaver, who in 1966 became the first black Presidential cabinet member.