Marking history: Freddie Lee Hayes, first Black graduate of Missouri School of Medicine, died

Freddie Lee Hayes made history in 1958 as “the first Black student to earn a four-degree from the Missouri School of Medicine, according to the book Aesculapius was a Mizzou Tiger by Hugh E. Stephenson,” stated a Life Story published in the Columbia Missourian on Nov. 3, 2021.

The entire article written by Joe Ellett is reprinted here with permission from the Columbia Missourian.

Freddie Lee Hayes always knew he wanted to be a doctor.

“He walked around with a book in his hand as a kid and said that he would be a doctor,” Nia Imani, Hayes’ niece, said.

Hayes died Oct. 16, 2021, at the age of 93. In 1958, he was the first Black student to earn a four-year degree from the Missouri School of Medicine, according to the book “Aesculapius was a Mizzou Tiger” by Hugh E. Stephenson.

“I’m sure he went through hell going to MU, and he never gave up,” Imani said.

Before 1950, the university did not admit students of color. This kept Missourians like Lucile Bluford, who the Supreme Court eventually sided with a 1941 decision, from accessing a public education.

The first Black students were admitted to MU in 1950. In 1951, Gus T. Ridgel became MU’s first Black graduate, according to MU’s timeline.

Early Life

Hayes was born in Boone County. He was the oldest of Dora Lee Harvey and Edward Hadley Hayes’s 12 children.

These were not the best of times in America, especially for African Americans. Hayes and his family of 12 endured the Great Depression, making much of limited prosperity, said Kenneth Freeman, Hayes’ nephew.

According to his peers from Douglass High School’s 1946 graduating class, Hayes excelled academically from an early age. Next, he graduated from Lincoln University in 1951.

His academic journey came to a halt from March 1952 through July 1953 when he answered the call of the nation as a member of the United States Marine Corp, said Freeman. It was the result of the Korean conflict.

Returning to the states after duty, Hayes attended the Missouri School of Medicine.

His nephew said it was Hayes’ preparation through the Great Depression and the Korean Conflict that had given him an attitude of endurance to pursue and accomplish the task.

Hayes remained a lifelong Tiger, according to the Missouri Alumni Association. The doctor continued to contribute to the university even after he moved from Missouri, according to the alumni association.

California dreams

After receiving his degree at MU, the young doctor traveled to California and eventually had a successful practice in medicine in Fresno. That practice exists today under the caring hands of physicians he mentored during his legacy, according to Freeman.

Hayes’ daughter, Aleta, a theatre professor at the University of Stanford, recalls walking into her father’s office to the sounds of Jackson Five.

“I have never been to a doctor’s office where they played the latest hits,” Aleta said. “That is another value of my father: Culture.”

Outside of his professional obligations, Hayes was committed to caring for his community. He gave out physicals to athletes in the African American community in Fresno, according to his stepdaughter Betty Hogan. He also helped deliver three or four generations of babies for families in the Fresno area.

His stepdaughter, Hogan, also said that the doctor was recognized by government officials such as the Mayor of Fresno and Governor of California for his contributions to the community.

Hayes would come back and visit family in Columbia regularly. “He always came home to check in, and I appreciated it,” Imani said.

Hayes was well involved in the communities that he lived in.

“However, the greater legacy this man has left is the inspiration he has given his children, nieces and nephews who have aspired to pursue excellence over adversity,” Freeman said.

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