Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd, a Nashville dentist and physician, faced daunting odds yet still became a pioneer in the field of medicine.
Not only was Dr. Boyd the first African-American dentist and doctor to open a practice in the Tennessee town, he was also a co-founder and first president of the National Medical Association, the leading Black health organization representing physicians and health workers nationwide.
Boyd was born a slave on July 8, 1855 in rural Pulaski, eventually living on the plantation of prominent Tennessee doctor Paul Eve. Boyd dreamed of becoming a physician despite his educational limitations, so he attended Fisk University at night when he became of age. Boyd did so well at Fisk, he was able to begin teaching in local schools.
The medical department of Central Tennessee College recognized Boyd’s efforts at Fisk, and he entered the institution in 1880. Two years later, Boyd graduated with honors. After teaching in Mississippi, he graduated from Meharry Medical College with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree in 1887.
On June 11 that same year, Boyd opened his practice. Boyd provided service to poor citizens in Nashville, but served patients of all economic classes as the 20th century dawned. Taken aback by Black mortality rates, he lectured in public forums and churches on the importance of proper health care.
According to Fisk University historian Linda T. Wynn, Boyd collected more degrees. In 1890, he attended the Postgraduate School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. The following year, he earned a Master of Arts degree from Central Tennessee College. Boyd also dabbled in politics, running for mayor and in 1893, for a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly.