Community Room to be Named in Honor of Public Health Pioneer Paul B. Cornely

Paul B. Cornely Headshot


The University of Michigan School of Public Health announced today that its signature events space—room 1680 or the Community Room—will be named in honor of public health pioneer Dr. Paul B. Cornely. A dedication event is planned for Friday, April 8, 2022. 

Cornely (1906-2002) had an impactful career in health and education over five decades and was particularly engaged in issues of health equity for Black Americans. He was a lifelong educator, teaching at Howard University from 1934 to 1973. Cornely was at the vanguard of the civil rights movement and led several historic desegregation initiatives in medicine and education. He was a three-time graduate of the University of Michigan, earning a BA in 1928, an MD in 1931, and a PhD in 1934. He was the first Black person in the United States to earn a doctoral degree in public health.

"Dr. Cornely was a giant not only in the field of public health, but also in the history of the United States," said DuBois Bowman, dean of Michigan Public Health. "We are grateful for the opportunity to add his name to the central gathering place in our building, where his legacy will be remembered daily. Thank you to the students who initiated this effort and to the many donors who have generously supported this worthy recognition."

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Cornely spearheaded the Imhotep National Conference, encouraging the desegregation of hospitals in the US. Cornely’s involvement in the movement helped lead the way to the landmark US Supreme Court case Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in 1964, forcing integration of the nation’s hospitals. 

His work also was significant in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In 1963, Cornely served as medical coordinator during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He also organized the Black Caucus of Health Workers that has supported Black public health workers since its inception in 1968.

Cornely was honored by the University of Michigan with an honorary degree in 1968, and this is the first physical space named in his honor at his alma mater. 

In July 2020, a trio of students along with 25 School of Public Health student organizations signed a letter advocating for Cornely's inclusion within the building. "We believe that such an overdue honor will remind the community of the rich historical contributions by Black people to the School of Public Health, University of Michigan, and broader field of public health so often overlooked and forgotten," said Joshua Tucker, MPH '21, Kyra Freeman, MPH '21, and PhD student Anton Avancena, the lead authors of the letter.

As part of the student advocacy, the School embarked on a unique process to raise funds to support a variety of diversity initiatives. Numerous donors supported the effort, and their generosity will provide funding for student support, pipeline programs for those underrepresented in the field of public health, and strategic school DEI initiatives. 

"I am proud of how our students advocated for this well-deserved honor," said Bowman. "Our students are committed to health equity, and sometimes that can mean helping to shine a light on a part of our past that was largely untold. Thanks to their advocacy and our committed donors, we will be able to honor a prominent Black figure in public health and support programming into the future."

Following the April 8 room naming ceremony, the Community Room will be known as the Paul B. Cornely Community Room. 

The event on April 8 is open to all School of Public Health faculty, staff, students and postdocs, as well as invited guests. Masking requirements and ResponsiBlue reporting requirements will be in place for the in-person event, and a livestream of the event will be available to those who choose to join remotely. Information on joining the livestream will be available in mid-March.