On September 20, 1958, alumnus Aubré de Lambert Maynard, MD, was credited with saving the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Stabbed in the chest by a disturbed woman at a book-signing event in a Harlem department store, Dr. King was taken to Harlem Hospital. Dr. Maynard, an authority on chest and abdominal wounds, was the hospital’s chief of surgery. Fortunately, no attempt had been made to remove the blade before Dr. Maynard took Dr. King to the operating room, as that could have led to a fatal hemorrhage.
Dr. Maynard, an immigrant from Guyana, earned his medical degree in 1926 from University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, the precursor to NYU Grossman School of Medicine, which is now the No. 2 medical school in the country for research. He would go on to encounter racial obstacles at public and voluntary hospitals in New York City and around the country. In 1930, Harlem Hospital was one of the country’s first medical institutions with a racially integrated staff at all levels, and it was thriving amid a growing African American population. Dr. Maynard, who placed first on the annual internship exam, became the hospital’s first Black intern, paving the way for countless other aspiring Black physicians. Dr. Maynard was the subject of the 2002 book When Harlem Nearly Killed King. In 1978, he wrote his own book, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story.
A decade after the incident, on the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. King referred to the episode in his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, acknowledging that if he had so much as sneezed while the knife was in his chest, he might have died from the injury. Having recovered from the wound, Dr. King was discharged from the hospital in less than two weeks.
Dr. Maynard died in 1999 at the age of 97. Three years earlier, he recalled the intense pressure he felt when called upon to operate on Dr. King with a team of trauma surgeons. “It was a momentous occasion for Harlem Hospital because it was a man of Dr. King’s position who was known all over the world,” he explained. “For him to be brought to Harlem Hospital for a dangerous thing like that, it was a challenge. Could Harlem Hospital show that it was up to this task? It was a city hospital, and it was looked down upon. It was up to me to show the world that it could be done there.”
In the century since Dr. Maynard first encountered so many racial obstacles, the medical profession has made great strides in affording opportunities to Black physicians. Inspired by Dr. Maynard and many other Black graduates, who have not only made historic contributions, but also provided exceptional everyday care to their communities, NYU Langone Health has been at the forefront of efforts to address racial disparities.
In 2022, NYU Grossman School of Medicine achieved two important milestones in its pursuit of greater diversity in healthcare, one in medical training and the other in patient care. The residency program of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery became one of the nation’s most diverse, with Black physicians accounting for almost 15 percent of its trainees—nearly 3 times the national average for similar programs.
Moreover, the recently established Institute for Excellence in Health Equity serves as the coordinating center for a collaboration between eight universities to prevent hypertension and reduce racial inequities in cardiovascular disease outcomes in Black communities.