On October 1, 1850, four professors of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in the City of New York summoned a student, James Parker Barnett, from the Anatomical Theater. They questioned him, and later claimed that he had admitted to havng 'African blood flowing in his veins.' Immediately, the professors dismissed Barnett from the College and ordered him never to return.
Just a few months after Barnett’s expulsion, Harvard University, under pressure from white medical students and fears of damage to the school’s reputation, expelled three African-American students who had been openly admitted to its Medical School. The 1850 Harvard episode is well known and well documented, but the Barnett case is absent from the history of African-American medical education. My paper presents a narrative of the case of James Parker Barnett, largely based on trustees minutes, correspondence, and court documents.
Following the expulsion, Barnett’s father spent the next two years fighting to reinstate his son to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in the City of New York (P&S). First, he tried to persuade the faculty and trustees that his son did not have 'African blood.' However, the faculty concluded that James Parker Barnett’s admission to P&S had been obtained through fraud.
Next, Barnett’s father hired attorney John Jay II, grandson of John Jay, who successfully filed for a writ of mandamus to restore Barnett’s admission to P&S. Attempting to end litigation, the P&S faculty and trustees offered to examine Barnett for a medical degree. Though Barnett passed his examination, he was prevented from receiving a degree by the Regents of the University of New York, the state’s highest educational authority; owing to his expulsion, Barnett had not satisfied the requirement of two full courses of lectures. P&S then offered Barnett an honorary degree, which Barnett’s father rejected, preferring to wait for a judge’s ruling.
Unfortunately, the final legal decision referred the matter back to the Regents of the University of New York. Barnett eventually received his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School in 1854, in the same class as two of the expelled Harvard students from 1850.