Lionel F. Swan
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Lionel F. Swan


Former President of Detroit Medical Society and National Medical Association


Lionel F. Swan

Dr. Lionel F. Swan was born on April 1, 1906 in Port of Spain, Trinidad to Julia and Horatio Swan. The Swan family migrated to the United States and settled in New York City (Harlem) when he was 16 years old. He completed three years of undergraduate studies at City College of New York during the evenings, while working odd jobs during the day.

In 1931, he enrolled in the College of Medicine at Howard University. The year he studied there also counted toward his final undergraduate year and he earned the bachelor's degree in 1932.

He returned to New York City where he worked as an investigator for the Home Relief Bureau from 1933 until 1935, when he left to resume his medical school education at Howard University. Dr. Swan graduated from Howard University's College of Medicine in 1939.

The following year, Dr. Swan completed his internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri and began working for the Veterans Administration at John Andrews Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. He established a private practice in Birmingham, Alabama when he finished his Armed Services tour in 1943.

Dr. Swan relocated to Detroit in 1951 and practiced with Dr. Jerry A. Thornton in River Rouge. Shortly thereafter, he established a private general practice in Detroit.

In 1956, Dr. Swan was a co-founder of the first NAACP Fight for Freedom Dinner. Dr. Swan has served as president of the Detroit Medical Society (DMS) and the National Medical Association (NMA). After he was elected president of the National Medical Association in 1967, Dr. Swan met with President Lyndon B. Johnson to discuss the special problems confronting African American physicians and patients in this country.

As a result of that meeting, President Johnson agreed to address the National Medical Association's convention. President Johnson's address to the NMA in 1968 was the first time a United States President had done so.

Chief among Dr. Swan's contributions was his involvement in the long battle to integrate the staffs of Grace and Harper Hospitals. Four black physicians were appointed to Harper's staff in 1960 as a result of the moratorium on development and expansion of the Detroit Medical Center. It was inspired by the Detroit Medical Society request to the Detroit City Council to halt funds for such development until the hospitals stopped their discriminatory hiring practices.

Dr. Swan, a man of courage, dignity, and faith died in his Southfield, Michigan home on Wednesday, June 16, 1999.

Tape recorded interview;
Detroit, MI
18 June  1998
audio clip

(This excerpt is from Dr. Lionel Swan in response to the question: Do you think integration caused the demise of black hospitals in Detroit?)

Oh, the answer to that is simple. Hospitals are so sophisticated now that it takes a tremendous amount of money. The black hospitals were privately owned. None of them could match the top hospitals. If I’m a young doctor and you’re sick and I sent you to a hospital, you had to go where you were getting the best treatment. And so the black hospitals couldn’t compete. We had Trinity, which is gone, Burton Mercy, Alf Thomas’ Hospitals. [However, there was no way that a private hospital could compete with the major hospitals, e.g., the Medical Center hospitals]


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


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Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
Text and images may not be used without the permission of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project.