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Dr. Maddox Broke the Color Barrier at UMSOD

Written by Adam Zewe

Dr. Elton "Tony" Maddox Jr. didn't intend to be a trailblazer when he first walked into the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) in 1968. However, four years later, he became the first African American to graduate from UMSOD.

A self-described country boy, Dr. Maddox was raised on a farm in Kingston, Md., a small town on the southern Eastern Shore. Dentistry was a foreign concept to Tony when he was a young child - racial segregation prevented him from even seeking routine dental care. Dentists practicing near rural Kingston refused to treat African American patients, unless they faced a dire dental emergency, Dr. Maddox explains. In fact, he first sat in a dentist's chair while he was a college student at Morgan State University. During his college years, he felt drawn toward a health care career, and eventually chose dentistry because of his passion for serving others. "With dentistry, the psychological reward of helping people is almost immediate. You don't have to wait for results," he remarks.

Dr. Maddox was accepted into UMSOD, but he was unaware that he would be the only African American in a class of more than 100 students. He faced the academic rigors of dental school with determination, but constantly felt the immense pressure of being the first and only African American student. Encouragement from his family, and support from a close circle of friends, helped him persevere. "I didn't go to dental school to be a pioneer. I just wanted to be the best dentist I could be. The experience certainly made me stronger and helped me grow," states Dr. Maddox.

He felt immensely proud on graduation day, but quickly focused on the next stage in his career: an internship at the inner-city Provident Hospital. Even though he learned a tremendous amount at Provident, he didn't expect to be back at his alma mater again so soon. Barely a year after graduating, Dr. Maddox accepted a faculty position at UMSOD. During his four years as an instructor/assistant professor, he trained a student body that became increasingly diverse. "I enjoyed teaching because I wanted to impart what I learned and do it in a caring way. I was also able to set an example - to be a role model - and that was exciting, as well," Dr. Maddox says.

In 1977, Dr. Maddox decided to stop teaching full-time so he could establish his own private practice in Salisbury, Md. When he opened his doors, he was the only African American dentist in the area. Dr. Maddox ignored any lingering racial bias he encountered in the community and quickly became a respected clinician with a diverse patient base.

Thirty-six years later, he shows no signs of slowing down. Now sharing an office with Kathleen Geipe, DDS '81, Dr. Maddox, 66, contemplates teaching at a community college after he officially retires from dentistry. He continues to be passionate about education, and hopes his own experiences can serve as a teaching moment for current dental students. "I hope they can learn to believe in themselves, persevere and tolerate new ideas. To have success in life, you must first seek to understand, and then seek to be understood," he concludes.

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