Cornelius McKane’s (1862-1909) heritage can be traced to a West African king named Mannah Funacai, or more commonly “King George.” McKane was born in Georgetown, Dutch Guiana, and traveled with his parents at the age of ten to Liberia. Before he departed Guiana young McKane met his grandmother, who made him promise to one day return and help the people of her native land.
McKane never forgot his promise. In fact, it was bolstered when he finished his schooling in America and visited Monrovia, where he met his great grandmother who exclaimed in her native language that he was a gift from God.
Thus empowered, McKane decided to pursue a career in medicine, moving to Savannah after his training because of the dearth of black doctors in the area. He soon met Alice Woodby, who had overcome incredible odds to become the only black female physician in Georgia in 1892. Woodby and McKane married, and he found that Alice shared his desire to help the people of Monrovia. The couple divided their energies between West Africa and Savannah, founding Monrovia’s first hospital and nurse training school, and establishing the McKane Hospital and the McKane Training School for Nurses in Savannah. McKane, a skilled orator and active clergyman, died in Boston in 1909.
Adapted from Charles Elmore, “Black Medical Pioneers in Savannah, 1892-1909: Cornelius McKane and Alice Woodby McKane,” in Georgia Historical Quarterly vol. 88, no. 2, Summer 2004.