Born in North Carolina in 1902, Dr. Leonidas Berry was one of the leading gastroenterologists of his time. After working as the first black intern at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, he went on to become a junior attending physician at Chicago’s Provident Hospital, the first American hospital owned and operated by African-Americans.
Notably, Dr. Berry worked with Dr Rudolph Schindler, the inventor of the gastroscope, an instrument which would allow physicians to see inside the stomach. Dr. Berry was inspired in his own work and used the gastroscope to study the effects of alcohol on the lining of the stomach. In 1941, this research made him the first black person to present a paper to the American Medical Association. Later, he was also noted for his development of the Eder-Berry gastrobiopsy-scope in 1955. This would be the first instrument that faciliated direct-vision sampling of stomach tissues.
Though Berry excelled in the field, he encountered many barriers. In 1946, he joined the staff at Michael Reese Hospital, where he became the first black physician on staff. However, he was repeatedly denied the rank of attending staff despite being recognized internationally for his work in gastroenterology. After 17 years of fighting for his place at Michael Reese, he delivered them a final call to action supported by the civil rights movement. Finally, on December 20, 1963, he was promoted to attending staff.
Throughout the rest of his career, Dr. Berry published an influential textbook, became one of the first African Americans admitted to the American Medical Association, and founded an organization called the “Flying Black Medics” which supplied health care to black communities in Illinois.
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