Black History Month USA: The Contributions of People of Colour to Clinical Research and Science

February 29, 2024
By Ted Marriott

Who comes to mind when you think of some of history’s most famous scientists? Perhaps it’s Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Francis Crick and James Watson. However, are you familiar with the contributions to science made by the likes of Katherine Johnson, George Washington Carver and Charles Odamtten Easmon? 

Maybe Katherine Johnson’s name rings a bell, as she was bestowed the Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015, and her story was featured in the multi-award winning film, Hidden Figures. Thanks to Black History Month in both the US and the UK, we can rescue and reinstate the contributions of Black people to science and clinical research who for too long have been eclipsed and forgotten. Not only that, we can understand why their contributions are so important, and we can look forward to the trailblazing contributions Black people will continue to make.


  1. Why diversity and inclusion matters for clinical research
  2. Black people’s contributions to medicine (and how it has been ignored)
  3. How can we champion the next generation of Black clinical trials professionals?

1. Why diversity and inclusion matters for clinical research

We could list a number of important Black scientists who made significant contributions to scientific breakthroughs in American history, and we’d encourage you to look them up! However, what is important to observe is how they persevered in the face of discrimination to deliver lifesaving interventions, and how their willful neglect and erasure meant talent and crucial knowledge went underserved.

This was the plight of many Black people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in America; however, we’ve still got a long way to go before we close the gap and erase disparities in STEM employment and studies. In both the US and the UK, we still observe large gaps in the number of people of colour studying STEM subjects at undergraduate level, which translates to the underrepresentation of Black people working within STEM fields. 

This is about more than filling quotas though. The contributions of academics and policy makers in the House of Commons Committee report in 2022–2023 revealed some useful insights. As Dr Anna Zecharia from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Science and Health put it, “Who you are has a bearing on how successful you are [ … ] investing in STEM is good for productivity, creativity, problem solving and innovation, so why would we restrict ourselves to a tiny, tiny proportion of society?”

We’re already aware of the racial biases that affect people of colour every day, and as former Chief Executive of the British Science Association Katherine Mathieson argued, under-representation was systemic, present at all levels and society wide. 

These barriers and biases don’t just mean Black people are starved of the opportunity to enter lucrative and fulfilling roles in STEM. Crucially, it means as a society, we’re starved of the talent we need if we’re to tackle some of our greatest challenges in health disparities, developing new drugs and therapeutics. As the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy stated in a report, “the R&D sector needs at least an additional 150,000 researchers and technicians by 2030 to sustain the UK’s target of 2.4% R&D intensity. Diversifying and widening routes into R&D and inspiring people from all backgrounds to consider these careers are critical to addressing these challenges.”

Black people have made significant contributions to scientific history – Katherine Johnson, who lived and worked during an era of segregation, literally helped us put a man on the moon – but they are still underserved today. How can we change that narrative and recruit the talent we need?

2. Black people’s contribution to medicine (and how it has been ignored)

In our other BHM blog, we delved into the racialised history of medicine in the United States and how it continues to affect health outcomes in the twenty-first century; if you haven’t already, make sure to check it out! The unethical treatment of African Americans by medical institutions had profound repercussions, but their active erasure is just as important for understanding global health disparities today, and the under-representation of people of colour in both STEM studies and clinical trials participation. 

Looking at the States, African American women played a vital role in the health and well-being of their communities well into the twentieth century. As midwives and caregivers, they were often responsible for delivering babies and caring for new mothers, especially in rural southern communities. From the early 1900s, childbirth transitioned to a more medicalised procedure. However, this also coincided with a rise in infant mortalities in childbirth.

Despite studies that showed traditional midwives were more safely and successfully delivering babies, the responsibility for delivering children still remained in the hands of predominantly white, male obstetricians; traditional midwives would need to acquire a license through a state-funded programme to legally deliver children. 

Of course, many Black people were barred from entry into medical training in the United States until well into the twentieth century, making it difficult for these communities to create their own infrastructures of public health. However, one Black pioneer sought to change that, and his name was Dr Daniel Hale Williams. Not only is he considered one of the first people in the world to successfully perform open heart surgery, but he also founded the first Black-owned and operated hospital in America. 

Dr Williams isn’t the only Black American who made an impact on medical history. Charles R. Drew was the founding medical director of the Red Cross Blood Bank. His work on developing large scale blood banks helped to save thousands of lives during the Second World War. Despite his contributions, he resigned from his post at the Red Cross, as the US military designated blood donations to be segregated on the basis of race.

3. How can we champion the next generation of Black clinical trials professionals?

The stats and history may be dispiriting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t groups and individuals making incredible strides for better recognition and participation of people of colour in the clinical trials profession and field of science. Founded in 2020, the Black in Cancer conference is entering its fourth year championing the excellence of Black researchers and professionals in cancer studies, as well as highlighting the inequality that persists for Black people in diagnosis and treatment.

The Black in Biomedical Research Advisory Group is composed of Black academics, professionals and practitioners across the UK, who through the project are on a mission to help Black people within the biomedical sciences achieve their full potential.

Beyond the groups advocating for better representation of Black practitioners and academics within the fields of medical research, we should also celebrate the researchers who are already making significant contributions to the field of science and who are closing the gaps in health disparities. People such as George Warimwe, Kizzmekia Corbett and Raven Baxter.

At CGX, our mission is to train the next generation of clinical trials professionals, and included in that mission statement is our passion and commitment to making sure that the next generation is as diverse as it is talented. 

With our consulting arm Clinnovate, we can tailor our work to your needs, to help ensure that diversity and inclusion of both practitioners and participants is built into the DNA of your clinical trials projects. Or, if you’re looking to become a clinical trials professional yourself and you want to make your contribution to science, then we can help too – whether you’re a career changer, graduate or you’re looking to take the next step in your professional development.

With our training courses, we can provide you with the foundations you’ll need to land your first job as a clinical trials administrator, research associate, project manager and beyond. With our consultation meetings, we can also make sure that you’re enrolled in a course that’s right and beneficial for you at the current stage of your professional development. 

If you’d like to find out more, don’t hesitate to contact us today. Finally, to our partners and supporters based in the US, we hope you’ve had an inspiring and enjoyable Black History Month.

1 8 Amazing Black Scientists and How They Changed History Available at:
2 STEM’s racial, ethnic and gender gaps are still strikingly large. Available at:
3 Ethnicity in STEM academic communities - reports commissioned by the Royal Society. Available at:
14 iBid
5 Diversity and Inclusion in STEM - Report summary. Available at:
6 Revealed: the stark evidence of everyday racial bias in Britain. Available at:
7 Diversity and Inclusion in STEM - Report summary. Available at:
8 iBid
9 Black Midwifery’s Complex History. Available at:
10 iBid
11 The Legacy of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a heart surgery pioneer. Available at:
12 Patent for Preserving Blood Issued November 10, 1942. Available at:
13 Charles Richard Drew - American Chemical Society. Available at:
15 MRC ‘Black in Biomedical Research’ Advisory Group. Available at:
16 10 Award Winning Black Scientists You Should Know About. Available at:

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