Celebrating Black History Month: Meet Edwin A. Lee, MD – Healthcare Trailblazer

History was made when young Black physician Edwin A. Lee was admitted into the Sangamon County Medical Society in 1949. The local medical establishment had never allowed a Black physician into the society before, and both local hospitals enforced unofficial segregation policies.

But Dr. Lee’s application was unanimously accepted by the organization, a reflection both of his talent and of a gradually changing world. Born in Mississippi in 1914, he graduated from Morehouse College and Meharry Medical College, both key institutions of higher education for Black students in the segregated South. After graduation, he served in World War II, enlisting in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and serving more than three years in the role of battalion and assistant regimental surgeon.

After moving to Springfield in the late 1940s, Dr. Lee gained respect for his skill and compassion as a physician as well as his commitment to community service. During his long career, he served as president of the Springfield School Board and the Springfield Urban League. He helped found Peoples National Bank and the Sangamon State University Foundation and also served on the national board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In the late 1960s, Dr. Lee served on the state advisory board for the Campbell Commission, which was tasked by the Illinois legislature with finding a site for a new downstate school of medicine. He was a strong advocate for establishing the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield—a decision that made Sangamon County a destination for talented physicians and other healthcare providers.

Dr. Lee died in 1993. Edwin A. Lee Elementary School in Springfield is named in his honor.