Joseph Robert Love, UB’s first Black graduate, received his medical degree on Feb. 25, 1880.
Love was born in the Bahamas in 1839 and moved to the United States in 1866, relocating to Buffalo in 1876 from Savannah, Ga. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1876 and was named rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo, which is today one of the oldest African-American Episcopal congregations in the county. Love enrolled in UB’s Medical Department in 1877 and graduated with the Class of 1880. A thesis was a requirement in those years; his was titled “Philosophy of Practical Medicine Versus Empiricism.”
As described by Christopher Densmore in a 1996 unpublished paper (“A Heritage of Diversity: Notes from the History of the University of Buffalo”), Love responded to a toast offered at the graduation dinner to “Our Colored Fellow Citizens” with the hope that “the time was fast coming…when the colored American citizen would emerge from his social ostracism of the past and meet his white brothers on the equal plain of education and merit.”
From its founding in 1846, UB never has had a policy of exclusion on the basis of race, gender or religion. As Densmore stated, UB “educated African-American doctors and lawyers, in an era when few such people were educated in predominately white institutions. However, the university’s contribution was to be open, that is not to erect barriers, which is not the same as having policies to recruit and support a diverse student body. The university’s business was to make education accessible…however, until the 1960s, there were few black students at the university.”
In 1881, Love moved to the Episcopal mission in Haiti and then settled in Kingston, Jamaica, where he published the Jamaica Advocate and championed the ideas of Henry Sylvester-Williams and Pan-African unity. Today, scholars consider Love to be one of the important Pan-African nationalists of the later 19th century and an inspiration to black nationalist Marcus Garvey. He also may have practiced medicine in both Haiti and Jamaica. He died in 1919.