Harvard Medical School Honors a Black Pioneer

The classrooms and hallways of buildings on the Harvard University campus are adorned with hundreds of portraits of alumni, faculty, and administrators from the past. Of the nearly 700 portraits either on display or in storage in Harvard’s collection, almost all of them are of white men. Many of them, in fact, appear in powdered wigs and lace collars.

In 2002 then Harvard president Lawrence Summers took steps apparently aimed at blunting the damage that developed when black professors Cornel West and K. Anthony Appiah left Harvard for Princeton. The president pledged $100,000 to the Minority Portraiture Project.

The first three portraits of African Americans, unveiled in 2005, were of Archie C. Epps III, the late dean of students, Eileen Jackson Southern, the first black woman to hold a tenured faculty position at Harvard, and David L. Evans, an electrical engineer who worked on the Apollo project, which sent men to the moon. Evans subsequently served as a senior admissions officer at Harvard for more than 30 years.

Now, another portrait of an African American has been added to the series. The new honoree is Harold Amos, who was a member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School for nearly half a century. Dr. Amos was the first black department chair at the medical school. He died in 2003 at the age of 84 after suffering a stroke.

Additional portraits of black scholars that have been commissioned and are in progress will be of Ewart Guinier, Nathan Huggins, and Martin Kilson, all of whom were among the university’s first black studies faculty.