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*Alexander Thomas Augusta was born on this date in 1825. He was a Black physician and educator.
From Norfolk, Virginia, as a young man, he first made his way to Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked as a barber. He began his study of medicine with private tutors, and next applied for admission to the University of Pennsylvania. Though access was denied, Professor William Gibson was impressed with Augusta and brought him under his guidance.
In 1856, Augusta was accepted to the College of the University of Toronto. Trinity Medical College awarded his Bachelor of Medicine degree. After establishing a successful private practice in Canada, in 1862, Dr. Augusta returned to America on the verge of the American Civil War. Pressed into service in 1863, Augusta became the first Black surgeon in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned a major in the Seventh U.S. Colored Troops as the (then) highest-ranking Black officer. Soon two white assistant surgeons complained to President Lincoln about having to report to a Black officer. Lincoln then forced Augusta to transfer to Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Augusta petitioned Senator Henry Wilson for payroll assistance. He successfully argued that as a medical examiner, he deserved more than the $7.00 per month normally given to a Black enlisted man. Senator Wilson agreed and pressured the Army paymaster in Baltimore to apply the appropriate pay rate for his rank. In March of 1865, Augusta received the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the first Black to gain this stature.
After discharge in 1866, Augusta continued private practice in Washington, D.C., and taught in the newly founded Howard University Medical Department. He retired from Howard University in 1877 and continued to practice medicine until his death. Lieutenant Colonel Augusta received full military honors with a burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The life of Alexander Thomas Augusta can be summed up in a single word, determination. He died in 1890.
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