Harold E. Pierce (1922–2006)

Dr. Harold E. Pierce Jr., ca. 1990s
Courtesy Melissa McClinton (GFDL)
“Image Ownership: Melissa McClinton”

Harold E. Pierce Jr. was an internationally renowned American dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon known as “The Father of Black Cosmetic Surgery.” He pioneered surgical techniques for the treatment of keloids, laminar dermal reticulotomy, hair transplants, cosmetic facial surgery, chemical facial peeling, and dermabrasion in people of color.

Pierce was born on April 4, 1922, in Philadelphia to Mary Leora Bellinger Pierce and Harold Ernest Pierce Sr. He is the older of two sons. His brother, Honorable Lawrence W. Pierce, became a federal judge in New York. Pierce’s mother died when he was seven years old, and his grandparents, Lillian A. Willets and Warren Wood Pierce of Bridgeton, New Jersey, raised him. While he was still young, Harold was not close with his father, and as an adult, visited him in Harlem. His father had retired as a laboratory assistant from New York State Department of Mental Hygiene.

After graduating from Bridgeton High School in New Jersey, Pierce attended Lincoln University in 1942 with a B.S. degree and while there pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. In 1946 he graduated from Howard University College of Medicine with an MD degree. Pierce studied under Dr. Charles Drew while at Howard University. After graduation, he completed an internship at Harlem Hospital in New York City, a residency in dermatology at the Philadelphia General Hospital, and a fellowship in dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Medicine.

In 1951 during the Korean War, Pierce accepted an assignment as the chief of dermatology at the 1600 USAF Hospital at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. In 1954 he became a general medical officer with the 111th Fighter Bomber. After many distinguished years, he resigned from the Air Force National Guard in 1976 and was promoted in 1987 on the retired list to the rank of brigadier general. He is the second African American to be given this ranking.

Pierce was active in the civil rights movement. He was a friend and fraternity brother of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and participated in the 1963 “March on Washington.” After the Daughters of the American Revolution barred Marian Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall in 1939, the young Pierce vowed he would later join the Sons of the American Revolution to protest the segregation and remind the organization that he was living proof that African Americans also served in the American Revolution.

Pierce married Constance Ella Mason on November 22, 1945. She was a mathematician and teacher in the Philadelphia school system. They were married for forty-four years until her death in 1989. Pierce had three children and four grandchildren. His eldest daughter became an attorney while the other two followed in his footsteps and became cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists.

Pierce was editor of the book Cosmetic Plastic Surgery in Nonwhite Patients (1982). For seventeen years, he was an assistant professor of dermatology at Howard University.

Harold E. Pierce died on October 25, 2006, at the age of eighty-four in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of complications from prostate cancer. He was eighty-four.