Augustus Nathaniel Lushington Biography
Trinidadian-born Augustus Nathaniel Lushington became one of the first Americans of African descent to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree when he graduated from the program in veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1897. Practicing for much of his career in segregated Lynchburg, Virginia, he experienced unjust treatment but was respected in the community as a superior practitioner. A photograph of Lushington now welcomes students to the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school, which, like other veterinary programs, suffers from an under-representation of minority students.
Lushington was born on the small southern Caribbean island of Trinidad, then part of the British empire, on August 1, 1869. His paternal grandfather was from the Congo, brought to Trinidad as a slave to work on the island's sugar plantations, and his father William raised produce for sale at a market, worked as a butcher, and did farm work. Family lore maintained that he was related to a tribal prince. Lushington attended teacher-training school and worked for several years in a Trinidadian classroom. Despite his very young age he was promoted to the rank of principal. But, apparently restless in spirit, he left Trinidad for nearby Venezuela, where he worked in the town of La Guayra for a British-owned railroad as clerk, general timekeeper, and paymaster.
That adventure lasted for about three years. Lushington returned to his family in Trinidad but found that opportunities were scarce in the island's labor market, crowded with successive waves of Indian and Chinese immigrants. In 1889 he set off for the United States, landing in New York City and making his way to Binghamton, New York, where he had some friends. In January of 1890 Lushington married a woman named Elizabeth Gavino Hubert, who came from Antigua. A network of West Indian friends helped him establish himself to a point where he could afford to enroll at Cornell University in nearby Ithaca, taking premed courses and studying agriculture. He graduated from Cornell in 1894.
Enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school, Lushington finished the program in three years. When he received his degree in 1897, he was the school's first black graduate. With a growing family, Lushington looked for a promising location in which to set up shop. According to most sources, he and his wife raised two daughters, one of whom, Drucilla Moultrie, taught in Lynchburg schools for nearly 50 years; another, Bernetta Parks, worked for Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. A third daughter, Christina, is mentioned in Lushington's entry in the Virginia edition of the History of the American Negro; but no other information is known about her. Two other children did not survive to adulthood. Lushington set up a veterinary practice in Philadelphia but remained there for only two years. Lushington seems to have been drawn southward, despite the worsening racial climate in the southern states, by a teaching job in veterinary sanitation at Bell Mead Industrial and Agricultural College in Rock Castle, Virginia. Deciding to return to his veterinary practice, he realized that south-central Virginia offered, from a veterinarian's point of view, an ideal environment, with large numbers of livestock grazing on the area's rolling hills. Finding that there was only one other veterinarian in Lynchburg, Lushington opened his practice there.
The farms were important because at this time, most veterinarians treated large animals. House pets existed, but in a far less wealthy era when gourmet cat food was unknown, most people could not afford to spend large amounts of money on their ailments. Lushington treated cows, horses, and other livestock, often walking for miles through the woods from Lynchburg to reach the farms where his services were needed. His philosophy, according to Arthur Bunyan Caldwell's History of the American Negro: Virginia Edition, was that "the first essential to progress is a better understanding between the best elements of the two races. This, he believes, would lead to closer and more harmonious relationships; mutual confidence would grow, and both races would gain as all advanced toward better citizen-ship." In Virginia, however, Lushington experienced neither harmonious relationships nor good citizenship. White farmers often availed themselves of his services but then refused to pay him—and in the repressive atmosphere of the South in the early 1900s, Lushington had neither the option of taking legal action nor even the practical right to refuse services to deadbeats.
Lushington's way of making ends meet was to take other jobs on the side. He worked as an agricultural statistics reporter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Industry, as a meat inspector, and as a probation officer on weekends. Even half a century later, when University of Pennsylvania veterinary graduate William H. Waddell penned his reminiscences of his early career, he wrote (in his book The Black Man in Veterinary Medicine) that the only outside employment available to black veterinarians was in the segregated military "or with the government as meat inspector, grade five." Lushington's two daughters saw little of him as they were growing up, but he did prosper to some degree in later life, moving into a large house and office on Fifth Street in Lynchburg and financing an education for his daughter Drucilla at St. Augustine College in North Carolina and Hampton University in Virginia. He became a trustee of a local Episcopal church. At the end of his career, Lushington did treat domestic pets. He was a member of the African-American branch of the Masons and St. Luke's fraternal organizations, and of the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce.
Lushington might have reached higher civic levels partly because he retained British citizenship and never participated in American political life. He never retired, working until he died at age 69 in 1939. His practice was passed down to a father-and-son veterinarian pair, George Jackson Sr. and Jr. For many years, Lushington was believed to be the first African American to receive a veterinary degree in the United States, but University of Pennsylvania graduate Alice Weiss, who wrote an article about Lushington for one of the school's alumni publications, found that he was preceded by Henry Stockton Lewis, who graduated from Harvard's veterinary school in 1889. Still, Lushington—who as a Virginian operated in a much less racially tolerant environment than Lewis—was hailed as a pioneer by Waddell, who arranged posthumous honors for Lushington from his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Items that belonged to Lushington are housed at the Legacy Museum of African American History in Lynchburg.
Caldwell, Arthur Bunyan, History of the American Negro: Virginia Edition, A.B. Caldwell Publishing, 1923.
Waddell, William H., The Black Man in Veterinary Medicine: Afro-American-Negro-Colored, rev. ed., W.H. Waddell, 1982.
Bellwether (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine), Fall 2003, p. 8.
"Dr. Augustus Nathaniel Lushington (1869–1939): Lynchburg Veterinarian," Legacy Museum of Afri-can American History, www.legacymuseum.org/herbs/G2/G201.htm (January 5, 2006).