Wilhelm Delano “Del” Meriwether yearbook photo
Centennial Spotlights

Wilhelm Delano “Del” Meriwether

Pioneering Black medical student and world-class sprinter Wilhelm Delano “Del” Meriwether was always in his own lane, and usually ahead.

Having appeared in the national science fair twice as a South Carolina high school student, Meriwether finished pre-med studies on a scholarship at Michigan State in just three years. He then became the first – and only – African American medical student at Duke in 1963, and Duke’s first Black M.D., in 1967, when he graduated with honors.

After an internship at the University of Pennsylvania, a residency at Ohio State and a fellowship in hematology at the University of Maryland, Meriwether took up running track when he wasn’t conducting leukemia research.

At age 27, self-trained and already an M.D., Meriwether quickly became a world-class sprinter, clocking several sub-10-second hundreds and winning the 1971 AAU outdoor 100-yard dash in 9 seconds flat, with a wind assist. He was the reigning 60-yard indoor champion in 1972, at age 29, but missed that year’s Olympics due to a knee injury.

He earned a master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins and in 1976, after serving a White House fellowship, Meriwether was named the U.S. Public Health Service’s leader of a national effort to vaccinate 200 million Americans against the swine flu in just six months. He became the public face of the effort on television and in major magazines.

Meriwether moved to South Africa in 1983 to work as a missionary doctor, one of just six physicians for a half-million people. He returned to the U.S. in 1990 and worked as an emergency room doctor before retiring in Maryland.