Race is an incidence of birth - quote from Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, the first Black General in the history of the US military.

Celebrating Black History Month: Brigadier General Hazel Johnson-Brown

Hazel Johnson-Brown’s Impact on Nursing and Military Healthcare

In the rich tapestry of nursing history, few stories shine as brightly as that of Brigadier General Hazel Winifred Johnson-Brown. A true trailblazer, she not only overcame adversity to achieve the rank of General in the United States Army but she also left an enduring legacy that transformed the landscape for African-American nurses.

A Pioneering Spirit

Born on October 10, 1927, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Hazel Johnson-Brown’s journey began with a passion for nursing and a determination to excel. Though she excelled in high school, West Chester School of Nursing rejected her admission due to her race. She went on to attend the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, where she earned her nursing diploma in 1950, setting the stage for an extraordinary career.

The Military Nurse

Black nurses have had to fight for acceptance throughout American history. During World War II, Captain Della Raney Jackson became the first Black nurse to be commissioned in the US Army and served at Fort Bragg.  These nurses were permitted to serve only in segregated hospital wards and prisoner of war camps. According to the National Women’s History Museum, at the end of the war, only 500 Black nurses held commissions despite the large number of applicants.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in 1955, just seven years after the Army Nurse Corps was racially integrated, Hazel embarked on a remarkable military nursing career. However, her ascent through the ranks was not just about personal achievement; it was a groundbreaking journey that opened doors for countless Black nurses who would follow her.

Chief of the Army Nurse Corps

“Positive progress towards excellence, that’s what we want.” – Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

In 1979, Hazel Johnson-Brown made history as the first African-American woman to attain the rank of General in the U.S. Army. As Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, her leadership brought a renewed focus on nursing excellence within the military. She championed advancements in nursing practices, prioritized training programs, and worked towards fostering diversity within the Corps.

Inspiring the Next Generation

More than a military leader, Hazel became an icon for aspiring nurses, especially women of color. Her story shattered preconceived notions, proving that dedication and expertise are universal qualities. By breaking barriers, she paved the way for a more inclusive nursing profession.

Advocacy for Nursing Excellence

General Johnson-Brown’s influence extended beyond her military roles. She was a tireless advocate for nursing education and professionalism. Her emphasis on continuous learning and commitment to excellence left an indelible mark on the field of nursing.

Honoring a Legacy

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown was not just a military leader – she was a nursing pioneer whose contributions continue to resonate, inspiring generations of nurses to aim higher and break through barriers in the pursuit of excellence.

Decorated with accolades such as the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal, Hazel W. Johnson-Brown not only served her country, she also left an indelible mark on nursing history. As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s honor her legacy and recognize the resilience and leadership that black nurses have brought to healthcare.

You can read more about this amazing nurse and pioneer on the National Museum of the United States Army website.


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