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  Name:   Charles S. Finch III
Month: January 2004
Schools: Yale, BA, 1971
Organization: Morehouse School of Medicine
Title: Director of International Health

A life turning point occurred in 1964 when I was accepted into the Commonwealth School, a small private day school in Boston founded by Charles E. Merrill. For me, it really was a different world. I was in Boston with my brother Arthur, who was working in the SNCC-like organization called the Northern Student Movement, and like so many, I was caught up in the forces of change impelled by the Civil Rights Movement. Not only that, but Commonwealth, though politically liberal, was far more rigorous academically than any school I had been to before. Had I not matriculated at Commonwealth, it is unlikely that I would have ever attended Yale.

I was one of 37 Black students to enter Yale in 1966, the largest group of Blacks ever to be admitted to Yale up to that time. The ferment and turmoil of the 60s, swirling around the emerging Black Power movement and the anti-war protest, was reaching peak intensity. Inside Yale, the Negro Student Discussion Group became, circa 1967, the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY). Malcolm X, assassinated 18 months before I entered Yale, had been canonized as the Black warrior-saint. Indeed, the word Negro had been disavowed in favor of Black. Those following Malcolm - Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver - shaped the discourse among Black students on campuses nationwide, Yale included. Music was very important: one listened equally eagerly to the Temptations and John Coltrane. Coltrane, especially after his death in 1967, became a cultural icon comparable to Malcolm. Everyone, it seemed, was imbibing from the cup of Black Nationalism and it is difficult to appreciate today just how potent a brew it was.


I married Ellen Nixon in 1972 and started medical school a month later. A Mount Holyoke student, Ellen and I met at a party at Yale in February (1967) of freshman year. Thus, I married my college sweetheart. We were eventually to be the parents of seven children, three boys and four girls. About the same time (1972), I began a course of private study in which I had to create a school in which I was both professor and pupil. It was an all-consuming investigation of ancient African history, anthropology, comparative religion, and ancient science that continues to the present. I am fond of saying that my real education did not begin until after I left college. In 1982, my vocation and avocation merged when I wrote an article entitled The African Background of Medical Science, published by Ivan Van Sertima in The Journal of African Civilization. In the next 16 years, eight of my articles would appear in Van Sertima's anthologies.

Also in 1982, I took my first trip to Africa, to the West African country of Senegal, beginning a series of visits that have taken me to the continent 50 times. My main motivation was my interest in traditional African medicine, stimulated by the research done preparing for my first published article (above). When I returned, I went to work at the Morehouse School of Medicine, joining the Office of International Health in 1989. In 1991, I became principal investigator of a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices survey of a group of 383 Serer (Senegal) traditional healers and 495 of their clientele. I have worked or interacted with traditional healers in different parts of Africa ever since. In August, 1996, I was a co-organizer of Coumba Lamba USA, an eight-day traditional healing ceremony from the Lebu (Senegal) tradition of ndepp, brought to the United States for the first time to St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

My first book was published in 1990, The African Background to Medical Science. The second book, Echoes of the Old Dark Land: Themes from the African Eden was published in 1991. The third book, The Star of Deep Beginnings: Genesis of African Science and Technology, was published 1998. As of this writing, I am still Director of International Health at the Morehouse School of Medicine and maintain a lively interest in African history, culture, traditional medicine, and religion.

 

 

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