Breaking barriers

Dr. Eugene Browning paved the way for Black doctors in Grand Rapids.
Dr. Eugene Browning with his wife, Gertrude, and two of their daughters, Jean and Shelley. Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library

Notable physician Dr. Eugene Browning practiced medicine in Grand Rapids for over 50 years. When he graduated from Detroit Medical College in 1905 he was the only African American in a class of 54 students. Dedicated to continuous learning, Browning later studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Vienna, Austria, gaining expertise in urology and dermatology. He broke racial barriers in Grand Rapids by obtaining admitting privileges in local hospitals and was the first African American to serve on the Michigan State Board of Health.

Beyond his accomplishments, Browning is remembered for his commitment to providing medical care in the community, especially for those who couldn’t pay. He was ahead of the times when he opened a weekly well-baby clinic in 1923. Year after year, he provided free checkups for kids so they could attend summer camps. In 1954, Browning said that he had seen thousands of kids, “but how many thousands I have no way of knowing.” He died in 1955 and his legacy is honored through the Browning Claytor Health Clinic, located in the Madison Square neighborhood, and through an annual Giants Award given in his name.

This story can be found in the February 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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