When it comes to our understanding of Alzheimer’s (a condition that affects memory, perception, judgement and overall daily function) and other brain degenerative diseases we can look to Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, the first African American psychiatrist, to thank for his pioneering contribution. Born in Monrovia, Liberia on August 11, 1872, Dr. Fuller came from a family who had a history of involvement in the medical field. His grandfather was a slave in Virginia who managed to buy his and his wife’s freedom. Eventually he relocated to Liberia where he became a medical missionary (1).
Dr. Fuller attended Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC where he received his A.B. degree in 1893 (2) as well as Long Island College Medical School. He received his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1897 and completed his internship at Westborough State Hospital in Boston, MA (3). While there he was able to study the brain cells of patients with psychiatric disorders who passed by way of autopsies which led to discovering more information on Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders. He also studied the blood of living patients in hopes to find more information (4). In Munich, Germany he studied neuropathology (disorders of the nervous system) under Alois Alzheimer in 1904 (5).
Dr. Fuller became an associate professor of pathology and neurology at Boston University in 1921 (6). Despite his position, education and large-scale research, including publications he was still underpaid. He also practiced psychiatry and saw patients in his own home (7).
In addition to Dr. Fuller’s extensive contribution to the understanding of Alzheimer’s he also contributed to correctly diagnosing (and taught students the same) of the side effects of syphilis at the Veteran’s Hospital in Tuskegee, AL. In this endeavor he hoped to help prevent African American veterans from being misdiagnosed and disqualified for military benefits. This was prior to the horrific Tuskegee syphilis experiment (8).
Dr. Fuller passed away in 1953. A mental health center in his name is located in Boston, Massachusetts.