Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry Medical College President/CEO

By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville has been more fortunate than the nation at large when it comes to leadership regarding the devastating impact of COVID-19. This global pandemic has killed over 300,000 Americans and millions overseas, but the nation’s president initially pretended it was a hoax, then claimed it would disappear by the fall. Donald Trump was far more of a disaster than a leader, but fortunately the country’s medical experts and community stepped into the breach, and have helped push forward a vaccine to fight this deadly disease, even as Trump blusters and now tries to claim credit for its swift creation and eventual social implementation.

Fortunately, we have in our midst Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, both a distinguished Ph.D  and M.D. He’s been active in day-to-day efforts to curb the virus, and make certain that Black and poor communities weren’t being left out or ignored in either the testing or implementation stages to fight COVID-19. 

He’s been a member of Nashville’s coronavirus task force, and has regularly advised Mayor John Cooper, influencing policy decisions in response to the virus. In addition, thanks to his efforts, Meharry and its students have led the city’s COVID-19 testing sites since testing became available. He was on the short list for Surgeon-General, but Meharry is no doubt happy he’s still in charge of America’s largest private, historically Black academic health sciences school that was founded in 1876.

Dr. Hildreth is nationally recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases. He was recently appointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which evaluates coronavirus vaccine candidates. This is just another among many honors for the native of Camden, Arkansas. He’s been Meharry’s 12th President and CEO since 2015.

His array of accomplishments include being Arkansas’ first Black Rhodes Scholar in 1978. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard in chemistry, Dr. Hildreth later earned his Ph.D from Oxford University in immunology, and his M.D. from John Hopkins. In 2002, Dr. Hildreth became the first African American in the 125-year history of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to earn full professorship with tenure in the basic sciences. In July 2005, Dr. Hildreth became director of the NIH-funded Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research at Meharry Medical College.

In October 2008, he was honored for his contributions to medical science by election to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious biomedical and health policy advisory group in the U.S. In August of 2011, Dr. Hildreth became dean of the College of Biological Sciences at University of California, Davis. He was the first African-American dean in the university, which was founded in 1905. He was also appointed as a tenured professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, as well as professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

In May of 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Arkansas. Dr. Hildreth has been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars. He currently serves on the Harvard University Board of Overseers. In 2016, he received the Champions of Health Award from the National Medical Fellowship. In May 2017, Dr. Hildreth was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and in August, he received the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Service Award presented by the Boy Scouts of America.

Dr. Hildreth serves on the following boards: Nashville Health Governing Board, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Nashville Healthcare Council. He is married to Phyllis Drennon King Hildreth. They are the parents of Sophia, a captain and attorney in the U.S. Army and James, a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. 

For his tireless service, contributions to the fight against COVID-19, and role as one of this city’s and nation’s leading medical experts and academicians, The Tennessee Tribune proudly honors Dr. James Hildreth as our Person of the Year.