In Honor Of Black History Month 2015
Henry Binga Dismond college track star, poet and pioneering physician is born on December 27, 1891 in Richmond, VA to Dr. Samuel H. Dismond and wife Jessie Cornelia Binga. His father, a highly respected Richmond physician, is born to enslaved parents Lafayette and Jane Dismond in Appomattox County, VA. His mother is the first born daughter of Pastor Anthony Binga Jr. and wife Rebecca L. Bush-Binga. At the tender age of 6, Dismond’s parents and baby brother die in rapid succession, leaving him to be raised by his maternal grandparents. A bright and active youngster, he greatly enjoys dime novels involving track hero Frank Meriwell. Emulating his idol, Dismond runs 1.5 miles each morning a habit producing exceptional athletic achievement and national public recognition.
“Strange to say, the much censored dime novel interested me in athletics. I was a great admirer of Frank Meriwell, the mystical Yale hero and his feats, which I read in a secluded place in the cellar, instilled into me a love for athletic accomplishments. When I was but 10, with my boy pal, I would rise with the dawn and run a mile and a half each morning, he upon my grandfather’s mare and I afoot…The first cinderpath I ever saw out of books, was in Washington. I had done all my running in the middle of the streets and from corner to corner measured the distance. The first chap I saw with real spiked shoes, trunks and jerseys was the captain of the Howard team.” (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1/29/1917, p. 4)
Dismond attends Richmond public schools, Virginia Union University and Howard University where his athletic prowess emerges. Upon his first appearance at the Smart Set Athletic Club games in Brooklyn, New York, Dismond takes the point trophy and two more loving cups for the 220 and 440 yard events.
“H. B. Dismond has returned with the biggest share of honors completed for the Smart Set games…Four events were opened to all athletes, in which were entered men from nearly every colored club in New York City. Dismond was made scratch man in the 220 and 440 yard runs, which he captured with yards to spare. These two wins netted him 10 points, which were significant to win the meet…Dismond is acknowledged the premier quarter miler in this section and clearly demonstrated to New Yorkers that he has no superior among the colored clubs there.” (The Washington Bee, 5/6/1911, p. 5)
After graduating Howard in 1912, Dismond briefly espouses Bostonian Miss Narka Lee, they settle in Brooklyn, NY where he works in real estate. Binga sprints for the Smart Set Athletic Club, later running anchor for Brooklyn’s Laughlin Lyceum “Winged L” relay team. Invited by his cousin, banker Jesse Binga, he enrolls in the medical program at the University of Chicago. During freshman year, he breaks a 19 year Central Amateur Athletic Union record with a 48.3/5 time; and was later chosen for the 1916 U. S. Summer Olympics team, to compete in Berlin, Germany. Despite cancellation of the Summer Olympics, Dismond receives a gold medal for matching the American quarter mile record time of 47.2/5 set by national champion Ted Meredith. Later, after defeating Meredith, he becomes the western intercollegiate champion and earns his varsity letter.
“Binga Dismond, the University of Chicago colored runner finished first, and Ted Meredith, University of Pennsylvania, last in the quarter-mile invitation run…A crowd of 5,000 persons which filled the new hall tonight, was surprised to witness the ease with which the Maroon runner defeated the national champion. Dismond took the lead at the crack of the gun and held it throughout the race, placing more distance between himself and the three other men as he went along. The last lap placed him across the finish line, a good ten yards ahead…” (New York Times, 1/28/1917, Sports Page)
In March of 1917, Dismond enters Rush Medical College studying orthopedic medicine. As World War I ensues, he enlists with the Old 8th Illinois (370th Infantry) entering ranks as a Sergeant in the medical corps. Just before embarking to France, he espouses second wife Geraldyn Hodges at Fort Logan in December of 1917. Later, fighting under French authority the 370th Infantry is the only African-American regiment commanded by black officers. Now a 2nd Lieutenant, Dismond is the cited for courageous leadership fighting on the front-line. While under heavy air and ground fire Dismond and Sam Ransom lead a victorious raid on German trenches in the Argonne Forest. Dismond’s was the first patrol squad to bring the Chicago 370th Infantry colors to the battlefield trenches.
“Sam Ransom and Binga Dismond, two former star athletes in Chicago, now serving in an Illinois regiment (name censored) as lieutenants led a patrol in a raid on some German trenches and acquitted themselves well under heavy fire…This regiment has been in France for some time and is considered as one of the best drilled from the United States…Since arriving in France the regiment has been commended for its conduct under fire and also for its appearance at a formal review before a high French commander…They have been under fire and also have been attacked by air planes, though close contact with the enemy has been limited to patrol brushes at night and sniping by days. In this they have excelled, greatly to Fritz’s discomfort.” (The Chicago Defender, 7/13/1918, p. 1)
During the last stages of war, he’s joined to a battalion near Soissons, France instrumental in the success of the Oise-Aisne Campaign; a movement that triumphantly conveys French troops to the Belgian border. Afterward, Dismond receives an honorable mention and promotion to 1st Lieutenant for courageous leadership surviving 30 days under heavy gunfire.
Having served 11 months overseas, Dismond resumes his studies graduating Rush Medical College in December of 1919. Passing the State of Illinois Medical Board examination he begins a residency at Chicago’s Provident Hospital. As an intern, Dr. Dismond invents the Radex Steam Infuser a device for treating respiratory diseases. Later, he presents his invention with an instructional paper at the 28th National Medical Association convention, in August of 1923.
“Quite a few instruments and devices have been been contributed by our group to the science of medicine. The most recent perhaps is the Radex Steam Infuser which was devised by Binga Dismond, M.D…The Radex Steam Infuser is intended for infusing the nose, throat and lungs with medicated steam…In the Dismond inhaler, the medicant is not introduced into the water, but placed on a gauze drum stretched across the aluminum collar of the rubber nose piece. Several instrument houses throughout the country handle this new and practical instrument. ( Journal of the National Medical Association, January-March 1924, vol. 16, no. 1, p. 49)
In 1922, while practicing medicine in Danville, Illinois several New York physicians’ including Dr. U. Conrad Vincent, Dr. Godfrey Nurse, and Dr. Chester Booth invite Dr. Dismond to establish an x-ray and electrotherapy clinic in Harlem, New York. Relocating in 1924, the Dismond’s quickly entrench themselves within the Harlem Renaissance social scene. Geraldyn works with the Urban League and NAACP joins various social and philanthropic clubs while pursuing her own entrepreneurial interests.
“…three more years of teaching in Chicago-then New York…She [Geraldyn] has not taught since coming to New York, but she has been far from idle. Her endeavors include, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Urban League, the Edgecombe Sanitarium, the Bethune-Cookman League and the N.A.A.C.P. She has organized the Chicago Club of New York; is a member of es Seize, Lambda Alpha Sigma and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. (Pittsburgh Courier, 8/6/1927, Section 2, p.1)
The charismatic couple grows popular within the ranks of Harlem society as frequent guests at tea and dinner parties, recitals and fundraising galas. They often attend private soirées and haunt fashionable night spots with A’Lelia Walker, Harold Jackman, Bessye Bearden, Langston Hughes, Alberta Hunter and many other notable Harlemites. Geraldyn swiftly becomes a successful entertainment publicist and a nationally syndicated society columnist. Binga builds a substantial medical practice while breaking down racial barriers within the mainstream medical establishment. The Dismond’s New York lifestyle becomes a hectic whirlwind of exhausting work, social obligation, and extravagant merriment.
“The Binga Dismonds’ new home at 245 West 139th Street, was given a surprise shower Saturday night, by a group of friends including A’Lelia Walker, Mamie White, Bertha Cotton, Bessye Bearden,…Alberta Hunter,…Harold Jackman,…The Julius Greens acted as host and hostess,…Art objects, vases and linens appropriate for the modernistic studio apartment…were bought by the ladies, while their escorts furnished the refreshments. The party started at around 12, but between the playing of Alex Hill, Carol Boyd and Joe Johnson, the singing of Alberta Hunter and Edith McDougald and the dancing of Jimmy Daniels and McCleary Sinnette, it was dawn before the leave-taking set in.” (The Afro American, 6/28/1930, p. 7)
Dr. Dismond’s prior athletic and military involvement sparks an interest in adding physical therapy to his medical practice, prompting post graduate study of the burgeoning discipline. This innovative pursuit proves to be his enduring passion, an arduous undertaking and later a profitable vocation. He pioneers an electrotherapy, physiotherapy (physical therapy) and x-ray medical practice, and by 1925 operates two treatment and surgical suites dubbed the “Dismond Reconstruction Clinic.” In 1926, he joins the New York Physical Therapy Society, its only African American member for well over a decade. At the 1928 Convention of the National Medical Association, in the Symposium on Physiotherapy, Dr. Dismond facilitates a discussion entitled Debunking Physiotherapy.
“In the last five years, at least fifteen big white universities have added chairs in physiotherapy,” said Dr. Dismond. “When I was at Rush, they didn’t even teach it.” Industry has also taken advantage of this new science. “Physiotherapy has indirectly saved industry millions by getting men back on their jobs in half the ordinary time,” said Dr. Dismond. I kept Fritz Pollard playing football a whole year on a sprained ankle by these treatments.” (The Pittsburgh Courier, 12/25/1926, sec. 2, p. 6)
In 1930, he’s hired as a medical service assistant physician in the department of medicine at Harlem Hospital, transferring to the outpatient department a year later. The entry level assistant physician classification, within the New York City public hospital system, is the only position available for most African-American physicians from 1929 into the late 1930’s.
“Harlem Hospital was one of the first municipal hospitals to admit black physicians to it’s staff, but not without a battle. The Institution had opened in 1887 before the influx of black residents. When blacks began to move into Harlem in large numbers, the hospital’s admissions reflected the changes in community composition…by 1920, the black population had grown to 152,000. In that year African Americans represented nearly 75% of the patients seen at Harlem Hospital. At that time, however, there were no black physicians on the hospital staff. One physician, Dr. Louis T. Wright, had been appointed in 1919 as a clinical assistant visiting surgeon in the outpatient department. This appointment represented the lowest rung on the medical staff hierarchy and did not carry with it admitting privileges. Some white physicians strongly protested even this token integration of the medical staff. Four doctors resigned and Cosmo O’Neil the hospital superintendent who had hired Wright, was forced to transfer to another position reportedly, because he had “brought nigger’s into Harlem Hospital .” (Gamble, V. N. (1995). Making a Place for Ourselves: The Black Hospital Movement, 1920-1945, p. 57)
A year later, apart from his hospital employment, Dr. Dismond establishes the “Emergency Industrial Service” Harlem’s first workmen’s compensation clinic. After about 3 years’ service at Harlem Hospital, he’s appointed Director of Physical Therapy a new program the city spends $20,000 dollars equipping.
In 1934, the New York Black Hawks, a black pro football team, designate Dr. Dismond their club physician, a position similar to his previous work with the all-southern collegiate football team. After 6 years as Director of Physical Therapy and 8 years, total employment with Harlem Hospital; Dr. Dismond is promoted to associate visiting physician, a higher staff ranking with patient admitting privileges. In 1941, the Workman’s Compensation Board of the New York County Medical Society designates him a Physical Therapy Specialist. Later, he organizes the Physical Therapy Department at Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital; and is a consulting physician for the Body Department of the Meta Rose Salon and Spa, spanning five floors on 7th Avenue in Harlem. A congregant with Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dr. Dismond organizes a physician’s board to administer health education programs and other projects promoting community wellness.
A lifetime student of Haitian history and culture
Dr. Dismond also speaks French, often making extended visits to his honorary home over a 20 year period. He creates the “Society of the American Friends of Haiti,” an endeavor toward cultivating a better understanding between Americans and Haitians. The Society hosts Haitian dignitaries, presents distinguished speakers and produces events thrusting Haitian history and culture to the forefront. Later, Dr. Dismond delivers public talks covering Haitian social issues and reviews his excursions with the aid of home movies, ultimately creating a Haitian exhibit displayed at Sag Harbor, New York.
“The November 16th meeting of Alpha Gamma Lambda enjoyed two great pleasures. The first was an illustrated lecture on Haiti by Brother H. Binga Dismond, who recently spent many months in that section of the world. Along with his comprehensive and complete history of the republic, Dr. Dismond showed moving pictures-made by him-pointing out the historic places of interest and depicting the very picturesque land as it is today. The lecture was received with much enthusiasm and accordingly, Dr. Dismond was graciously thanked.” (The Sphinx, 12/1936, Vol. 22, No. 4, p. 31)
He also organizes the shipment of medical supplies, clothing and other necessities to victims following the 1937 Haitian Massacre, later raising money for the Haitian Orphanage Fund. In March of 1938, he’s conferred the title “Chevalier of the National Order of Honor” by the Republic of Haiti. Several years later, Dr. Dismond and fourth wife Cora Campbell-Dismond attend a NAACP reception honoring Dr. Jean Price-Mars, the Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Other attendees include civil rights dignitaries Walter White, Arthur Spingarn, Dr. Louis T. Wright and Haitian diplomats Joseph D. Charles and Ernest Chauvet. A poet and writer at heart, Dr. Dismond composes a book of poetry illustrated by E. Simms Campbell entitled, “We Who Would Die and Other Poems including Haitian Vignettes.” The 1943 work, comprised of socio-political protest poetry and Haitian Essays is highlighted with personal anecdotes, romantic prose, and verse about the physician’s life. A decade later, he pens another poetic manuscript entitled “Harbor Lights,” that is never published. Over time, Dr. Dismond weaves his enduring love for the Republic of Haiti, its intrepid history and vibrant culture into his demanding and expansive lifestyle.
During the late 1940’s, Dr. Dismond sells his downtown clinic and “Striver’s Row” townhouse moving wife Cora to their Sag Harbor home, operating a small clinic in Bridgehampton, Long Island. Later, bearing illness he rents his office to community officials for the establishment of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, serving African American children of migrant workers. In late 1954, Dr. Dismond undergoes major cancer surgery at Southampton Hospital. After a brief recovery, the couple visits Haiti for an extended convalescence returning to Harlem in April 1955. Sadly, Dr. Dismond succumbs to cancer at Harlem Hospital on November 21, 1956, and his funeral is attended by more than a thousand prominent Harlemites and others; he was 64 years old.
H. Binga Dismond, M. D. fashioned an outstanding legacy through the development of his natural talents, the pursuit of personal, intellectual and community interests and a wide array of professional, social, philanthropic and entrepreneurial activities. He is noted as being a bon vivant, a man about town, an original African American jet-setter, a Harlem renaissance socialite, an avid yachtsman and “the greatest Negro runner the world ever knew.” Dr. Dismond was active with the National Urban League and the NAACP, also holding memberships with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (President, Alpha Gamma Lambda, 1944-1945), New York Sons and Daughters of Virginia (Founder), Council of Elks (Past Exalted Ruler & Medical Board Chairman), Prince Hall Masons, Knights of Pythias, Capstone Club 69 (Medical Examiner), the Buffaloes, Foresters and Mechanics.
NOTE: H. Binga Dismond, M.D. is a cousin from the Binga branch of my family.
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