Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1918: Detroit physician and museum founder Charles H. Wright is born 

By: - September 20, 2022 3:32 am

Charles H. Wright Museum | Susan J. Demas

On Sept. 20, 1918, Charles Howard Wright was born in Dothan, Ala., located on the state’s southeastern corner not far from its border with Georgia and Florida.

Before becoming a Michigander during the 1940s, Wright, who was African American, attended Southeast Alabama High School and Alabama State College, graduating from each institution in 1935 and 1939, respectively. 

Meharry Medical School in Tennessee admitted him in the fall of 1939 and Wright earned a degree from the institution in 1943. He moved to Detroit, according to the Detroit Historical Society in 1946.

Charles H. Wright | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University,

It was a time when the Motor City’s Black population doubled, from about 149,000 residents in 1940 to 300,000 residents in 1950 as many of them sought a better environment from the racially segregated Jim Crow South. They helped the city to reach its highest population, 1.8 million people. 

Later, Wright became a leading OB-GYN specialist and general surgeon in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press reported in 1998 that Wright during his career helped deliver more than 7,000 babies. 

He founded the African American History Museum in March 1965. Originally, it was housed in the basement of his home and office on West Grand Boulevard, a historic Black neighborhood in the Motor City. 

In April 1997 the institution reopened in a state-of-art new site, located at 315 East Warren Ave, in Detroit’s cultural center area. The 120,000 square foot structure, the museum’s third site, was the largest African-American historical museum in the world at the time. It housed more than 30,000 artifacts and archival materials, including a visual exhibit depicted the journey of African slaves to North America. 

The institution was named in his honor on March 30, 1998. 

Over the years, the institution has been the site to help celebrate the life of noted Michigan political leaders, including Coleman A. Young, a former Michigan state senator and Detroit’s first African-American mayor, and Damon J. Keith, a former Michigan Civil Rights Commission co-chair and U.S. District Court and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge. 

Wright died at age 83. On March 13, 2002, a funeral service was held for Wright at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit were he was an active member. 

“Charles Wright excited us to be part of history,” said the Rev. Nicholas Hood, Sr. his longtime pastor and one-time Detroit City Council member said at the time. “He fought the good fight.” 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.