“But perhaps above all, it was Black intellectuals who made Europe their pilgrimage. Du Bois went to Germany in 1892 after finishing his degree at Harvard College not because of his race but because of the intellectual opportunity. ‘Any American scholar who wanted preferment,’ he said, ‘went to Germany for study.’ Langston Hughes’ father urged him to go to Switzerland for college and learn French, German, and Italian all at once. (Hughes went to Harlem instead, though later he would try his hand at filmmaking in Russia.) Black newspapers reported how French universities were ‘open for business’; in 1955 James Baldwin estimated five hundred Black Americans were walking the streets of Paris ‘studying everything from the Sorbonne’s standard Cours de Civilisation Française to abnormal psychology, brain surgery, music, fine arts, and literature.’
Another ‘problem group’ for medical schools, Jewish students, had long looked to Europe for an education. (The dean of the Yale School of Medicine in the 1920s instructed his admission committee, ‘Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.’) Officials from medical schools in Michigan and Alabama complained that if they admitted all the qualified Jewish students, the school would be so full of ‘undesirables’ that there would be no room for local students. In 1932 almost two thousand American Jewish students were studying medicine in Europe, mostly in the UK, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.
Black Americans followed, particularly after World War II. (Others had traveled the path long before. James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a medical degree, had done so in Scotland in 1837. Black women, too, made the trip; Sarah Parker Remond, born in 1826, studied obstetrics in Florence and practiced in Italy for over twenty years.) It was a win-win situation for the students and the countries that accepted them. A 1932 Philadelphia Tribune article titled ‘French Universities Would Welcome U.S. Negro Students’ quoted an official French report on the rising number of American students in the country: ‘They return to their country and are excellent missionaries for our ideas, our books, our surgical instruments, our pharmaceutical products and health centers.'”
Doctors Without Borders: On the Black doctors who received their medical degrees and a new sort of freedom in Europe via Lapham’s Quarterly.