America’s first African-American dentist: Robert Tanner Freeman

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February 2nd, 2018

In 1867, Robert T. Freeman joined Harvard University’s newly opened School of Dentistry. Two years later, he and George Franklin Grant graduated, becoming the first officially trained African-American dentists in the U.S.

Freeman was born to former slaves in 1846 in Washington, DC. At a young age, Freeman became an apprentice to local dentist Henry Bliss Noble. When he was old enough, Noble encouraged Freeman to apply to colleges to become a fully trained and certified dentist.

Despite his talent, Freeman’s path to dentistry wasn’t easy. He was rejected by two local colleges before being accepted to Harvard (and only after a dean petitioned the school to end its history of exclusion against people of color).

After his graduation, Freeman opened his own practice and became known for his commitment to mentor other young African-Americans who wanted to become a part of the medical community.

Unfortunately, Freeman’s story was cut short when he died of a water-borne illness in 1873.

While he died young, his work is still felt today. Learn more about Freeman’s lasting impact here.