In recognition of Black History Month, Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital is presenting a traveling exhibit that honors the life and legacy of Hermann A. Barnett III, M.D., the first black graduate from a Texas medical school. Dr. Barnett’s son, Marcus Barnett, M.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist on the hospital’s medical staff who was recently named the new chief of staff at the hospital. The exhibit will be on display in the hospital lobby through the end of February.
The elder Dr. Barnett flew as an Army Air Forces fighter pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group and was one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He is considered a pioneer for equality in the medical field because he was able to overcome Jim Crow laws and hardened racial prejudices to become the first black to graduate from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) in 1953. Even though Dr. Barnett had been accepted to medical schools at two all-black institutions, he chose to attend UTMB at the urging of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to help crack the medical field color barrier in Texas. He faced many hardships as the lone black student at the school. Dr. Barnett was not allowed to sit in the classroom for some courses. But he was able to ace a microbiology course while taking notes in the hallway. Another time he was beaten by a Galveston County sheriff’s deputy and accused of stealing the class ring he had earned upon graduation.
Dr. Barnett went on to become the first African-American member of the Texas state board of medical examiners and the first black elected president of the Houston Independent School District board of trustees. He died in a 1973 plane crash in Kansas at the age of 47, leaving behind a wife and five children. Dr. Marcus Barnett and one of his siblings became doctors.
The younger Dr. Barnett received his medical degree at his father’s alma mater and completed an internship in general surgery at Howard University Hospital. He has been in practice since 1991 and was elected chief of staff at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital for 2010.