A doctor, politician and noted international medical missionary, Dr. Aaron M. McMillan (1895-1980) was a pivotal force in North Omaha. After serving in the Nebraska Legislature from 1928 to 1929, he served as a hospital-founder and physician in Angola for 17 years. Then he came back to North Omaha, where he provided free healthcare for five years before going back into private practice.
Dr. McMillan became a wildly popular figure throughout his life in the community. He moved to the city in 1922 when he was 27-years-old. By then, McMillan graduated from the Cotton Plant Academy in Arkansas in 1915, earned his bachelor’s degree at Bishop College in Dallas in 1919, and completed his medical studies at Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1923.
When he was at Bishop College, McMillan met his wife Willena. She also graduated from Bishop College, teaching at Houston College and Texas A&M College in Fort Worth. McMillan decided to move to Omaha after visiting his father, who was the minister at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
Just a year after arriving, McMillan was added to the ballot as a last minute candidate to challenge Dr. John A. Singleton, DDS for a seat in the Nebraska Legislature. The effort worked and he was elected to represent North Omaha’s Ninth District. McMillan immediately became a member of the Douglas County Republican Committee and delegate to state Republican convention.
In his 1980 obituary, it was noted that during his early years in Omaha, he provided the first professional office space for Omaha’s NAACPand was the first Omahan to buy a lifetime membership to the organization.
The Missionary Doctor
However, that same year he was elected, he was invited by the Black Congregational Church and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to serve as a medical missionary. Leaving his term early, in 1929 McMillan and his wife left for the School of Tropical Medicine in Lisbon, Portugal, for an 18-month program of post-graduate studies. In 1931, they became the first American medical missionaries in Portuguese West Africa, later called Angola. The facility they served at was called the the Galangue Mission. Founded in 1923, Galangue was the first mission founded and staffed by African Americans in Angola.
During their 17 years there, the McMillan’s secured donations from the United States to build a modern medical complex at the Galangue Mission called the Willis F. Pierce Memorial Hospital. When they left, the facility had 4-acres with 45 buildings, including a 2-story building, 130 beds, modern equipment, a chapel, and training facilities for staff.
Returning to Omaha
Aaron and Willena moved back to Omaha 1948.
When he returned to North Omaha, he opened the People’s Hospital at North 20th and Grace Streets. He also volunteered with the NAACP, the Omaha Housing Authority Board, and other organizations. Dr. McMillan spoke nationally about his experience, too, and was regarded highly around the country. Later he served on the staff at Children’s Hospital and Methodist Hospital, both in Omaha.
Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan died on June 1, 1980 in Inglewood, California. His wife Willena died in 1970.
Today, there are no monuments or historical markers in Omaha to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. McMillan.
You Might Like…
- A History of the People’s Hospital in North Omaha
- A History of African American Politics in North Omaha
- A History of Community Leaders in North Omaha
- A History of African American Legislators from North Omaha
- “Aaron M. McMillan and Medical Missionary Work in Angola,” a photo album of Dr. McMillan’s service in Angola. For sale by McBlain Books.