February 26, 2016

Early pioneer in Alzheimers research honored during Black History Month

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
Solomon Carter Fuller
Caption: Solomon Carter Fuller

As we get ready to stamp a very wet February "CLOSED," there is much to reflect on from new things learned during Black History Month, and the many doors that opened for learning even more.

Discovering Solomon Carter Fuller was a treasure. His name came up in a tribute from the Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org). Further research through www.blackpast.org revealed that he was an early-20th-century psychiatrist, researcher and medical educator. His education included studies at Long Island Medical School.

As a medical student, he was tapped as one of five people to be part Alois Alzheimer's research team in Germany at the turn of the 20th century.

Lory Bright-Long, MD, CMD, CDP, is a member of United University Professions at Stony Brook Health Science Center in the Department of Psychiatry. She uses several slides about Fuller in her talks about Alzheimer's Disease and its history.

She is impressed by "the fact that a young black man was chosen by Alzheimer to do research and that he (Fuller) was actually the one who drew the link between the pathologic changes (amyloid) and the findings as a disease state — not inevitable aging."

Bright-Long also said she brings his name up when she talks about "the fact that we still have little insight into why African-Americans are at such high risk (for Alzheimer's). Her own theory, she said, is the increase in amyloid deposition in brains that have cerebrovascular changes.

Fuller achieved much in his lifetime, although there were barriers to his path.

"Fuller faced discrimination in the medical field in the form of unequal salaries and underemployment. His duties often involved performing autopsies, an unusual procedure for that era. While performing these autopsies, Fuller made discoveries which allowed him to advance in his career as well contribute to the scientific and medical communities," according to blackpast.org.

The Alzheimer's Association also identifies him as the "first known black psychiatrist" in America.

According to blackpast.org, Fuller had an important role in helping black veterans. He helped train others to correctly diagnose the side effects of syphilis, to prevent black war veterans from getting misdiagnosed, discharged and declared ineligible for military benefits.

The Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston was named after him. It is a state psychiatric hospital.

In 1974, the Black Psychiatrists of America created the Solomon Carter Fuller Program for aspiring black psychiatrists to complete their residency.

To learn more about the accomplishments of black men, check out "Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America," by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. The book has been available at low- to no-cost through First Book and the American Federation of Teachers.

Resources for continued learning about essential Black history – on through Women's History Month in March -- are abundant on the AFT's free Share My Lesson site, which includes lesson plans and activities that will reach far beyond this month.

Subjects include African-American Congresswoman, Women of the Civil Rights, and the delightful story of Melba Doretta Liston in "Little Melba and the Big Trombone," an early pioneer in jazz music both as a woman and as a person of color. Miss Melba, in all her little and big splendor, can be great resource to blast us joyfully into March's Women's History Month.