Sullivan, Louis

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Sullivan, Louis

November 3, 1933

Louis Sullivan, a physician and member of President George H. W. Bush's cabinet, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to undertaker Walter Wade Sullivan and Lubirda Elizabeth Sullivan, a schoolteacher. Sullivan's parents moved to Blakely, Georgia, where they later founded the Blakely chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Louis stayed in Atlanta with relatives because of its better educational opportunities and graduated from Morehouse College in 1954. Winning a scholarship to Boston University Medical School, he graduated cum laude as the only black member of his class in 1958. He finished his internship and residency at New York HospitalCornell Medical Center in New York City in 1960 and subsequently won a fellowship in pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In 1961 he was awarded a research fellowship to the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Harvard Medical School, where he was named instructor of medicine in 1963. From 1964 to 1966, he served as assistant professor of medicine at the New Jersey College of Medicine. He returned to Boston University in 1966 and became assistant professor of medicine at the medical school as well as codirector of hematology at the medical center. In 1974 he became a full professor of medicine and physiology.

In 1978 Sullivan helped found a new medical school, Morehouse School of Medicine (affiliated with Morehouse College yet independent of it), to train African-American doctors to practice in the South. With Sullivan as its first dean and president, Morehouse School of Medicine became accredited in 1981. Sullivan received personal support for his school from Vice President George Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush became a trustee of the school in 1983, and following her husband's election to the presidency five years later, she led the effort to secure Sullivan's nomination as secretary of health and human services. Despite a moderate position on abortion, Sullivan was nominated by Bush and confirmed in 1989 after calling for the reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

As secretary, Sullivan devoted most of his attention to minority health care and preventive medicine and opposed further cutbacks in Medicare. He encouraged Congress to reverse the Reagan administration's budget cuts for medical education, and he initiated a program to curtail the spread of tuberculosis. Sullivan incurred controversy when he initially supported needle exchanges with drug users to prevent the spread of AIDS; he later reversed his position.

After Bush left the White House in 1993, Sullivan returned to full-time service as president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He left the presidency of Morehouse in 2000 but remained as president emeritus and professor. He was named to the Georgia Trend Hall of Fame in 2003.

See also Politics in the United States


"Influence That Lasts." Georgia Trend 18, no. 5 (January 2003): 29.

Jensen, Kris. "Emerge Profiles Morehouse's Sullivan," Atlanta Constitution, December 7, 1993, sec. F, p. 3.

"Louis Sullivan's Record." Boston Globe, December 15, 1992, p. 22.

durahn taylor (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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