Robert Tanner Freeman – The first Black dentist
Dr Robert Tanner Freeman was born in 1846 in Washington, D.C. His parents were slaves and when they were freed from bondage, they added “Freeman” to their names. Encouraged by his employer and mentor, Dr Noble, a dentist himself, Freeman applied to the Harvard University School of Dental Medicine; he was rejected from two medical schools before finally being accepted to Harvard. Dean Nathan Cooley petitioned on Freeman’s behalf citing that the school’s legacy of segregation ceased.
Upon graduating in 1869, Freeman returned to the D.C. area and opened up his dentistry practice in the same building as Dr Noble. Freeman was a predecessor in African American’s path in dentistry because, before his formal education, Black dentists were trained via apprenticeships. Unfortunately, Freeman died of a waterborne illness in 1873 shortly after he established his career.