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Pioneer Atlanta doctor Asa Yancey laid to rest

By Bekitembe Eric Taylor Contributing Writer | 3/22/2013, noon
More than 200 mourners gathered here to pay final tribute to iconic Atlanta physician Dr. Asa G. Yancey, a longtime ...
Memorial services were held recently for Dr. Asa G. Yancey, 96, a trailblazing black doctor and civic activist in Atlanta. As a physician, Yancey was a unique blend of good training and awesome skills, said Dr. William Weaver (at podium), a professor of surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine. (Photo by Vincent Christie)

ATLANTA – More than 200 mourners gathered here to pay final tribute to iconic Atlanta physician Dr. Asa G. Yancey, a longtime activist and civic leader who helped train and mentor hundreds of black doctors throughout the South, almost single-handedly helping to expand the region’s burgeoning black middle class in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yancey, 96, died at his home March 9 after a period of declining health, family members said.

A disciple of legendary black physician Dr. Charles Drew, Yancey was remembered this week as a trailblazing black doctor and activist in Atlanta, where he was a surgeon, professor, author, community leader and former Atlanta school board member.

Yancey developed the first accredited surgical residency program for African American physicians in Georgia and was the first black physician at Grady Memorial Hospital, where he later became medical director of what is now Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital.

His creation of the surgical residency program helped provide career opportunities for aspiring black doctors, expand the number of black physicians serving the black community, and promote a viable black middle class, observers say.

Dr. William Weaver, a professor of surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine, said Yancey was a unique blend of good training and awesome skills.

“He had good hands and he could cut,” Weaver said. “It’s a shame that I never had the privilege to work in the operating room with him.”

Weaver added that his success in medicine is largely due to the mentoring he received from Yancey.

Dr. Lee R. Shelton, who worked with Yancey after completing a medical internship at Howard University, agreed, adding: “He was the second most important man in my life.”

A longtime advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, Yancey worked tirelessly to break the color lines in Atlanta’s medical community and in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Born in Atlanta, Yancey was valedictorian at Booker T. Washington School class of 1933, and later graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1937.

One of four African-Americans at the University of Michigan Medical School, Yancey finished his residency at City Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio in 1942 where he met Dr. Charles Drew, the prominent black surgeon who later pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the nation’s first large-scale blood bank.

As a student of Drew’s, Yancey was among the first physicians to attempt a successful bloodless surgery with the manipulation of plasma.

Yancey later helped to establish an accredited surgical residency at the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital in 1948 as the chief of surgery.

An author of several medical papers on veterinary health, Yancey was the first black faculty member in the School of Medicine at Emory University and the first black board member of the Atlanta Public Schools, where he encouraged the study of English, foreign languages, mathematics and natural sciences.

He also was the first black member of the Southern Surgical Association in 1985, and a Life Member and Golden Heritage Member of the NAACP. For his tireless work in community health, the Asa G. Yancey, Sr., M.D. Health Center was opened in his honor by Grady Memorial Hospital.