The legacy of Herschell Lee Hamilton, M.D., a man who committed his life to advancing civil rights, will be passed on to future generations of medical students thanks to his widow, Willa Yvonne Echols Hamilton, and their children, Rachel Lorraine Hamilton Kersey, D.D.S.; Jacqueline Elaine Hamilton, M.D.; Herschell Lanier Hamilton, M.P.P.M.; Sharon Yvonne Hamilton Broach, J.D.; Cheryl Smith; and Verschell Long, R.N.
The family has established the Herschell Lee Hamilton, M.D., Endowed Medical Scholarship in the School of Medicine to honor the memory and lifelong work of the late physician, who actively practiced medicine for more than 40 years. The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation has matched these funds in appreciation for Dr. Hamilton’s many contributions to the practice of medicine.
Known as the “Battle Surgeon” and the “Dog-Bite Doctor,” Hamilton provided free medical care, including surgery, to activists who were sick or injured during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. No patient was ever turned away from Hamilton’s office because of an inability to pay.
Born in 1925 in Pensacola, Florida, Hamilton served his country in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, after which he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1949 from Florida A&M University and a medical degree in 1954 from Meharry Medical College. He then completed a general surgery residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
Hamilton came to Birmingham in 1958 as its first African-American board-certified general surgeon. He practiced at Community (formerly Holy Family), HealthSouth (formerly South Highland), University, and Princeton hospitals, and he was a Diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
Hamilton was an active participant in the Mineral District Medical Society, the National Medical Association, the Meharry and Florida A&M alumni associations, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, and the Board of Deacons of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. He and his beloved wife raised six successful children over their more than 40 years of marriage, and were the proud grandparents of 13 grandchildren.
When Hamilton passed away in late 2003, civil rights activist Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth said of him, “He was a great believer in civil rights and human rights, but he didn’t talk about the work he did. He gave the credit to others.” Both Shuttlesworth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were patients of Hamilton’s during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the participants in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
This scholarship, which will encourage African-Americans to pursue careers in the medical profession, reflects Hamilton’s commitment to civil rights. It was fittingly established during the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham civil rights movement in 2013.
Nicole Davis, Pharm.D., is the first recipient of the scholarship. She was a full-time pharmacist in the Birmingham area for 12 years, but she decided to become a physician to be more involved in the treatment and diagnosis part of patient care. She is now a second-year medical student.
For more information about giving to the School of Medicine, visit www.uab.edu/medicine.