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Jocelyn Elders was born Minnie Lee Jones on August 13, 1933, in Schaal, Arkansas. She was the oldest of eight children born to sharecroppers Haller Reed and Curtis Jones. For most of her childhood, she and her siblings picked cotton in order to make ends meet.
Education was highly valued in Jones’ household. She attended Bright Star Elementary, which was a segregated, one-room schoolhouse that was 13 miles from her home. She then transferred to Howard County Training School in Tollette, Arkansas. From there she graduated valedictorian at the age of 15.
Elders earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. While in school, she changed her name to Minnie Jocelyn Jones before ultimately dropping Minnie altogether. In 1952, she earned her B.S. in Biology with the goal of becoming a lab technician. But after hearing Edith Irby (first Black student at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine) speak, she decided to become a physician.
Shortly after graduating, Jones began working at a veterans administration hospital in Milwaukee as a nurse’s aide. She then joined the Women’s Medical Specialist Corps of the U.S. Army in 1953. She was stationed at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco, California where she treated wounded soldiers during the Korean War.
After becoming a licensed physical therapist, Jones was transferred to Fitzsimmons Hospital in Denver, Colorado where she treated President Dwight D. Eisenhower after his heart attack. She was then accepted into the University of Arkansas Medical School. She married Oliver Elders and embraced his last name shortly thereafter. She later earned her M.D. in 1960 and her M.S. in 1967.
By 1978, Elders had become the first person in Arkansas to receive board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist. After graduating from medical school, she became the University of Arkansas’ first Black resident, first Black chief resident, and its first Black professor.
Elders advocated for better sex education, as well as the legalization of marijuana. She worked as the Director of the Arkansas Department of Health where she began speaking out on how to improve sex education. Elders was then appointed the 15th U.S. Surgeon General. She was the first Black woman and the second woman to hold this position.
Elders developed the Office of Adolescent Health which later became the Department of Health and Human Services. While speaking at a United Nations Conference in 1994, Elders suggested that masturbation should be taught in order to prevent AIDS and HIV among teens. She was then forced from her position as the Surgeon General after serving only 15 months.
In the latter portion of her career, Elders has received numerous awards and honors. In 2016, the Jocelyn Elders Clinic was established to teach sex education to Ugandans and provide them with medicine for common diseases, like malaria. At the age of 85, Elders continues to fight for better sex education and public health, the legalization of marijuana, and racial equality in the medical field.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi) or We Buy Black. Thank you.**