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Dr. James L. Curtis

About Vivian A. and James L. Curtis

Dr. James Curtis’s life and career form a microcosm of America’s own history addressing issues of race, class, and social justice over the past century.

Dr. Curtis entered University of Michigan’s medical school in 1943 as the only black student in his class. He graduated in 1946, in the top fifth of that class.

Dr. Curtis married Vivian A. Rawls, a 1948 graduate of the U-M School of Social Work. Vivian Curtis became known as an exceptional leader in social work nationally, while Dr. Curtis served in many highly placed positions as a clinician and an educator in psychiatry and as a health care administrator. “My personal ambition, and my wife’s,” Curtis says, “was to create increasing opportunities for people, regardless of race, gender or family income.” 

In 2007, with the assistance of Paula Allen Meares, then dean of the U-M School of Social Work, the Curtises provided funding for the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis Research and Training Center. The Curtis Center is dedicated to providing support for research that creates social change and helps to improve the lives of underserved populations. Since its inception, the center has funded 19 pilot projects, provides ongoing support for a postdoctoral fellow, and offers program evaluation services to community-based agencies. 

James Curtis, MD ’46, and Vivian Curtis, MSW’48 shared a lifetime of blending medicine and social work values, and, through the Curtis Center, they continue to inspire for positive change.

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