Our heritage is richer for some of the courses set by others. What we wish to do with this marvelous legacy remains to be seen. The challenge and opportunity are here.

— John C. Norman, M.D., F.A.C.S.[1]


The Society of Black Academic Surgeons can trace its origin to a historic meeting in New Orleans, LA in October of 1987. Present at that meeting were Drs. Arthur Fleming, Claude Organ, Onye Akwari, Eddie Hoover, and Steve Aichele of Davis and Geck. This meeting was arranged to address the role of African-American surgeons in academic surgery. It was abundantly clear that few blacks were involved in academic surgery, there was no organized network of African-American academic surgeons, few young surgeons pursing academic careers received tenure, and graduates from surgery residency programs other than Meharry or Howard could not easily identify African-American surgeons role models to inspire them to pursue academic careers.

At this inaugural meeting an organization dedicated to promoting more active participation in academic surgery among African-Americans was born and christened as The Society of Black Academic Surgeons. The anagrams "SBAS" by which the organization is commonly referred was contributed by Arthur Fleming, the first president of SBAS.

First SBAS Meeting

The initial meeting was planned for 1989 to assemble as many African-American surgeons as possible to discuss the essentials of building academic careers. Dr. David Sabiston, James B. Duke Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery agreed to host the meeting at Duke University School of Medicine, and Dr. Onye Akwari served as the local arrangements chairman. The meeting took place April 12-15, 1989 at the Washington Duke Inn and Duke University Medical Center. The program was an invitational workshop with invited guest faculty from throughout the United States. Among the guest faculty were chairmen of major medical school surgery departments including Drs. Haile T. Debas, of the University of California at San Francisco; Arthur J. Donovan, of the University of Southern California; Arthur W. Fleming, of King-Drew Medical Center; Eddie Hoover, of Meharry Medical College; Bernard M. Jaffee, of SUNY Brooklyn; Rayford S. Jones, of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville; LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., of Howard University; John C. Norman, of Marshall University; Claude H. Organ, Jr. of the University of California, Davis-East Bay; Hiram C. Polk, of the University of Louisville; Walter J. Pories, of East Carolina University; David C. Sabiston, Jr., of Duke University, Seymour I. Schwartz, of the University of Rochester; George F. Sheldon, of the University of North Carolina; G. Tom Shires, of Cornell University; William Silen, of Harvard University; James C. Thompson, of the University of Texas at Galveston; Andrew S. Wechsler, of the Medical College of Virginia; and Samuel A. Wells, of Washington University, St. Louis.

Also in attendance were Drs. Maurice J. Jurkiewicz, President of the American College of Surgeons; Ward O. Griffen, Executive Director of the American Board of Surgery, and C. Rollins Hanlon, Executive Consultant for the American College of Surgeons. The editors of the major surgical journals including the Archives of Surgery (Organ), Annals of Surgery (Sabiston), Surgical Rounds (Jaffe), Current Surgery (Pories), and Contemporary Surgery (Schwartz) were also in attendance.

The meeting organizers were proud to acknowledge that every prominent individual asked to attend this seminar agreed to participate without hesitation. The meeting included seminars on funding academic productivity, and promotion.

A reception and banquet was held at the Washington Duke Inn on April 14th hosted by Dr. Sabiston. Dr. John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus, addressed the gathering on "The Vanishing Black Male." This outstanding address was appropriate and timely given what we now know of the status of the Black male in America. The sponsors of the first meeting included: Davis & Geck, Lederle Laboratories, The Duke University Department of Surgery, The Duke Graduate School, and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.

The first meeting was an unqualified success in achieving its goals of assembling and forming a national network of black academic surgeons. The information provided for the young surgeons attending the meeting a broad perspective on the challenges and necessities for a successful career in academic surgery. Most attendees left the meeting looking forward to the next meeting planned for 1991 at Harvard University.

Second SBAS Meeting

The second meeting of the Society was held April 7 – 9, 1991 at Harvard Medical School. Harvard was unanimously selected after an invitation from Harvard to host the meeting was presented to the organizing committee by Dr. Mitchell Spellman, a member of the Harvard faculty. Dr. William Silen, Johnson and Johnson Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School and Chief of Surgery at Beth Israel Hospital served as the local arrangements chairman. Dr. Silen arranged a distinguished panel of scientists to make presentations at the meeting, and out of this was born the "State of the Art Lectures" which has become an important feature of the SBAS scientific program. Harold Amos, PhD; Philip Sharp, Ph.D; Daniel Tosteson, MD; and Terry Strom, MD; all presented State of the Art lectures in there respective fields on Monday, April 8, 1991. Charles Dinarello, MD, and Judah Folkman, MD completed the State of the Art Lectures on Tuesday. The lectures were outstanding, well received, and set the tone for future SBAS meetings which have embraced the State of the Art Lectures as a highlight of the meetings.

The Harvard meeting marked the first effort of the Society to include a strong scientific program. The participants were exposed to some of the best and brightest among young academic surgeons and aspiring surgeons-in-training who presented their work. The annual SBAS meeting is recognized as an excellent forum for young investigators to review their research with their peers. The auspicious start at the Harvard meeting is credited with establishing the tradition of scientific excellence associated with SBAS programs.

The Society continued to address the important issues regarding the role of African-Americans in academic surgery. The late afternoon session on Monday, April 8, 1991 was devoted to a symposium entitled "Crisis in Minority Residency Training Programs: Where are we?" During this session Drs. Freeman, Leffall, Fleming, Weaver, and Walker, all program directors at predominantly African-American surgery training programs, provided updates of their respective institutions. Dr. Donald Wilson of the Association for Academic Minority Physician, Dr. Paul Friedman, Chairman of the Residency Review Committee, and Dr. Ward Griffen, Executive Director of the American Board of Surgery presented at this symposium on the perspectives of their organizations on the fate of minority training programs.

A black tie dinner was held in the atrium of the Harvard Medical School Education Center Monday evening, April 8, 1991. Derek Bok, President of Harvard University delivered the keynote address. The evening was an unqualified success.

The Harvard meeting marked a milestone in the history of the Society. Since the Harvard meeting the format of the meeting now regularly includes the State of the Art Lectures, and scientific presentations are the major focus of the meeting. Issues of concern for African-American surgeons remain central to the mission of the Society, but the emphasis on the scientific content of the meetings has strengthened the organization. The Society of Black Academic Surgeons was originally conceptualized as an organization which would outlive its usefulness in time as African-Americans successfully entered mainstream American Surgery; however, the Society has taken on a life of its own due largely to the success of its excellent scientific programs. Emerging concepts in scientific research are widely appreciated among the audience, and probing well-informed questions are regularly posed to the presenters. Yancey was presented with a plaque in honor of his long history of significant contributions to academic surgery, and was later to be honored with a lecture in his name beginning with the 1996 meeting at the University of Colorado.

Third SBAS Meeting

The third meeting of the Society was held in the Napa Valley of California at the Napa Valley Inn, April 4 – 6, 1993. The Department of Surgery at the University of California, Davis-East Bay hosted the meeting with Dr. Claude H. Organ, Jr. serving as the local arrangements chairman. This meeting was the first meeting to feature a program exclusively devoted to science. Excellent presentations from young investigators were the highlight of this meeting. State of the Art lectures were presented by F. William Blaisdell, MD; Haile T. Debas, MD; Tom R. DeMeester, MD; Cornelius Hopper, MD; Mark A. Israel, MD; Norman E. Shumway, Md, Ph.D.; Stephen F. Lowry, MD, and Thomas E. Starzl, MD, Ph.D. This meeting firmly established the Society as an excellent forum for scientific presentation and serves as a benchmark against which the scientific content of all subsequent meetings are to be measured.

An added feature of the Napa Valley meeting was the beautiful setting in the California wine country in which it was held. The Society members remember the beautiful setting in the Valley of the Moon for the reception and dinner at the Robert Mondavi Winery. The participants were treated to a wonderful dinner complemented by delightful wines form one of California’s leading wineries.

The Napa Valley meeting marked several milestones in the history of the Society. It was at this meeting that the official logo, in the likeness of Charles R. Drew, MD, was first introduced to the Society. The outgoing president, Dr. Onye Akwari, was presented with an official Society medal for his distinguished service to the organization. Dr. Asa Yancey was presented with a plaque in honor of his long history of significant contributions to academic surgery, and was later to be honored with a lecture in his name beginning with the 1996 meeting at the University of Colorado.

The Society decided at this meeting to have annual instead of bi-annual meetings since the scientific programs were so sell received, and the meeting were continuing as an important network for African-American surgeons. Subsequent meetings in 1994 and 1995 were held at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and at the University of North Carolina, respectively.

Fourth SBAS Meeting

The Galveston meeting was held March 27 – 29, 1994, and was sponsored by James C. Thomspno, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery, the first chairman to formally request the honor of hosting a meeting of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons. True to his nature, Dr. Thompson conferred an abundance of Texas hospitality to the Society members, and provided us with delightful program and fond memories. Dr. Robert McCauley, Associate Professor, Department of Surgery and Pediatrics, UTMB, served as the local arrangement chairman and assisted President Eddie Hoover with planning the scientific program and special events.

Fifth SBAS Meeting

The 1995 meeting, held at the University of North Carolina, was hosted by Dr. George Sheldon, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery UNC. Dr. Sheldon had just assumed the presidency of the American Surgical Association the previous week, but was still able to honor the Society as a gracious and thoughtful host during March 30-April 2, 1995. The scientific program at the UNC meeting remained at a high-level, and the State of the Art Lectures were thoroughly enjoyed.

The 1996 meeting will represent a new milestone for the Society of Black Academic Surgeons. The organization has traditionally been represented by general surgeons. A group of African-American academic urologists will join ranks with SBAS at the Denver meeting with the intention of eventually developing their own academic society.

The Society of Black Academic Surgeons has enjoyed a wonderful seven-year history. What started out as a forum for discussing issues of concern for black academic surgeons has grown into a formidable scientific forum in which surgeons of all backgrounds can feel free to participate. Nurturing and concern for the plight of the black academic surgeon will remain the primary mission of this organization; however, augmenting our reputation for scientific excellence may represent the most appropriate expression of our mission. We look forward to the future with great anticipation.


By Vernon J. Henderson, M.D.
[1] Organ CH Jr, Kosiba MM, (eds). A Century of Black Surgeons: The USA Experience. Norman, Oklahoma: Transcript Press, 1987, By permission of Transcript Press