Charles F. Whitten
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Charles F. Whitten


Children's Hospital of Michigan and Wayne State University School of Medicine

Charles F. Whitten

Dr. Charles F. Whitten was born in Wilmington, Delaware on February 2, 1922. He was the oldest of the four children of Tobias and Emma Carr Whitten.

Following his education at Howard High School in Wilmington, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1942. Dr. Whitten completed his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in 1945.

He practiced general medicine for five years in Lackawana, New York and then spent two years in the military. After one year of advanced study in pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine, and a two-year residency in pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Buffalo, New York, Dr. Whitten came to Detroit to study under a one-year fellowship in pediatric hematology at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Having served as chief of pediatrics at Detroit Receiving Hospital, he has the distinction of being the first and only African American to head a department in a Detroit hospital at that time.

Dr. Whitten was among the founders of the African Medical Education Fund (AMEF) in 1960. The AMEF offered financial assistance to any qualified African or African American medical student who agreed to provide medical service in Africa. After operating for 25 years and providing 50 physicians to 13 African countries, the AMEF ended in 1975. Its assets were distributed between the Dunbar Medical Museum and the Museum of African American History.

In 1969, Dr. Whitten instituted Wayne State University's post baccalaureate enrichment program for black students who applied but were not accepted into a medical school. Upon successful completion of the one-year intensive program with a "B" average, the student is guaranteed admission to Wayne State's medical school.

A major area of Dr. Whitten's research has been sickle cell anemia. In 1971, with the help of other concerned citizens, he formed the Sickle Cell Detection and Information Center, the most comprehensive community program in the country. In the same year, he facilitated the creation of the National Association for Sickle Cell Disease, which now has over 80 member organizations.

Dr. Whitten is currently semi-retired. He has been associate dean for curricular affairs and a distinguished professor of pediatrics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He holds the titles of distinguished professor of pediatrics emeritus and associate dean for special programs.

He has chaired the Michigan Department of Public Health Advisory Committee, the Genetic Disease Committee, the Task Force on Infant Mortality, and co-chaired the Expert Committee on AIDS. He has also served on the committees of the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Academy of Science, and National Institutes of Health.

He has been a member of a number of corporate boards of directors, including the Gerber Corp, the National Bank of Detroit, and Comprehensive Health Service (The Wellness Plan).

Tape recorded interview;
Southfield, MI
27 May  1998
audio clip

Dr. Whitten talks about organizing the community program on sickle cell disease in Detroit

Well, I organized a community program on sickle cell. My major interest in medicine has been sickle cell disease. We're in our 27th or 28th year of the program that I developed here at the center. I'm still chairman of the board, major leadership role there. And, we own the building. We have about 26 employees and we have a state contract.

We're the only community organization that has statewide responsibility for sickle cell programs. I started this program in-it's been twenty-six [years] or so. We didn't have the total responsibility until about ten years ago. But we've had a program that started in Detroit, and then moved out-state a bit, and now it's statewide. It's supported by the Department of Public Health, now the Department of Community Medicine and Community Health, and United Way. We have a budget of about a million dollars now for our program. I was a major organizer of a National Association of Sickle Cell Disease and served as its president and leader for 20 years, and now I'm president emeritus. I've been involved in a number of community organizations.…

I: The name of your organization that is running the sickle cell program?

R: Yes, it was Sickle Cell Detection Information Center, but we changed the name of our national organization, which was the National Association of Sickle Cell Disease. Now it's the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Michigan Chapter.

I: One of the questions I wanted to get back to, you talk about sickle cell, and knowing that's your specialty. What did it take to become tops in your specialty?

R I'm not tops in my specialty. I want to be very clear. I've done relatively little research. I've done some research in sickle cell disease. I've been a major organizer of programs. One of the things that impressed me when I came over to do a pediatric hematology fellowship was that we had psycho-social support programs, comprehensive programs for other hematological diseases, but not for sickle cell. That was one thing that impressed me. That stimulated me to develop the sort of programs that I've developed here and I've been a major factor in developing a national organization and have done a lot of consulting with our member organizations…

I've [also] developed a lot of educational materials and approaches to problems. Our local program is a model program for the country, in terms of community organization. I also directed a comprehensive sickle cell center at Wayne State University. Our organization has a subcontract with the medical school and I direct the program as a sort of consortium. We had investigators from Wayne [State University] and the University of Michigan as a part of the center. We had a grant for about 19 years from the NIH [National Institutes of Health].

I: What got you started, what sparked your interest in the sickle cell anemia field?

R: What I tried to describe to you a few moments ago, that I found at Children's Hospital of Michigan other hematological problems were being dealt with differently than sickle cell. Sickle cell patients weren't getting the benefit of everything we knew. They weren't getting the psychosocial support that they needed, that type of thing. That's what stimulated me to get into sickle cell disease.

I: Then, why do you think that occurred?

R: Well, to some extent it's a black disease and sort of was not dealt with as other problems might have been dealt with. But there was a great need for it and that's what I recognized and that's what really stimulated me. I think my whole sickle cell career has been built around that recognition that we needed to have organization. We needed to have social support systems. We needed to have our communities involved and that's what I set out to do, both locally and nationally.


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


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Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
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