Alexander Thomas Augusta was the first African American faculty member of Howard Medical School. Augusta was also the first black person to hold a commissioned officer in the US Army.
Augusta was born to free African-American parents in Norfolk, Virginia. As a young man, he learned to read while working as a barber although it was illegal to do so in Virginia at that time.
He applied to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania but was denied admission. He began taking private instruction from some of the faculty members. He refused to give up his dream of becoming a physician.
After earning enough money for traveling, he set out for California. However, he was concerned he would not be allowed to enroll in medical school in the United States, so he enrolled at Trinity College and the University of Toronto in 1850. Augusta received a degree in medicine in 1856. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he wrote Abraham Lincoln offering his services as a surgeon and was given a Presidential commission in the Union Army in October 1862.
On April 4, 1863, Augusta received a major’s commission as a surgeon for black troops. This made him the United States Army’s first African-American physician out of eight in the Union Army and its highest-ranking African-American officer at the time. After returning to Washington, Augusta opened a private practice. He was attending surgeon to the Smallpox Hospital in Washington in 1870.