Jesse B. Barber, Jr. Biography (1924-)

African American

Jesse B. Barber, Jr. was the first African American to be certified by the American Board of Neurosurgery and became the third black American to practiceneurosurgery in the United States. Throughout his career, Barber has made significant contributions to his profession, his school, and his city, holding various positions of importance, including director of the Howard University Medical Stroke Project. He also served as the chief of Neurosurgery at Howardand became the university's first professor of social medicine .

Jesse Belmary Barber, Jr. was born on June 22, 1924 in Chattanooga, Tennesseeto the former Mae Fortune and Jesse, Sr., who was a Presbyterian minister and an educator. Although he admired his father deeply and aspired to be a preacher like him, Barber's excellent academic performance led him to begin taking pre-engineering courses. However, after being ranked first in a pre-medicalexamination, Barber moved toward medicine. After first attending Swift Memorial Junior College and then Hampton Institute and Yale University, Barber received his B.A. from Lincoln University. He was then accepted at the Howard University Medical College where he received his M.D. in 1948.

Barber's practicing career began at Freedman's Hospital where he was an intern and a resident general surgeon from 1948 to 1954. In 1956 he became an instructor of surgery and pathology at Howard, moving two years later to serve asa resident at the McGill University Montreal Neurological Institute. In 1961, however, Barber returned to Howard University to become chief of the division of neurosurgery as well as professor of surgery. He founded the university's Medical Stroke Project in 1968, and in 1983 he became Howard's first professor of social medicine, a field of study which he pioneered.

In addition to his professional contributions, Barber has been a leader as well as a member of many organizations. He was president of both the National Medical Association (1977-1978) and the Washington Academy of Neurosurgery (1973-1974). He also is a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Epilepsy Foundation of America, the Executive Committee for Strokes of the American Heart Association, Kappa Pi and Alpha Omega Alpha. Among the many honors and awards he has received are the Howard University Alumni Federation Award for Meritorious Professional and Community Service (1970), the William Alonzo Warfield Award (1974), the YMCA Century Award (1974), the Distinguished Service Award of the National Medical Association (1974), and the Distinguished Service Award of the Howard University Department of Surgery (1979).

Barber achieved notoriety in 1973 as the neurosurgeon chosen by Hamaas AbdulKhaalis, leader of the Hanafi sect of the Black Muslims, to operate on his wife who had been shot in the head several times during an attack by an opposing sect. Barber also made headlines with his surgical skills when he successfully attempted an extremely rare and difficult transposition of the spinal cord operating procedure in the early 1970s. He performed this operation on a teenager whose scoliosis or curvature of the spine was becoming so severe thatit was paralyzing him. Barber literally took the cord out of the spine, straightened it, and reinserted it, resulting in a marked improvement in the boy'sparalysis.

Barber attributes his "social medicine perspective," an ideal that has guidedhis actions throughout his medical career, to the values instilled in him byhis missionary parents. He is most proud of his education-oriented efforts,having guided scores of Howard University students toward the field of neurological study. In 1993, he was the facilitator of new exhibit at Howard University that focused on African American neurosurgeons.

Barber married the former Constance Bolling and has four children, Clifton, Jesse III, Charles, and Joye. Retired from active practice, Barber now lives in Washington, DC.

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