Born in East Chicago, Ind., Donald M. Suggs earned a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate of dental surgery from Indiana University. He came to St. Louis in 1957 to complete post-graduate training at Homer G. Phillips Hospital and Washington University’s School of Dental Medicine. Suggs received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 2012.
Following a tour with the U.S. Air Force, during which he served as chief of oral surgery at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, he became the first African-American associate clinical professor at Saint Louis University Dental School.
In 1962, he established what would become a successful private oral surgery practice. In 1970, he launched the Alexander-Suggs Gallery of African Art in St. Louis and New York City.
He later founded and chaired the African Continuum to support non-commercial African-American artistic endeavors, and was a founding member of what would become the Museum of African Art in New York.
Furthering civil rights efforts
In 1968, Suggs served as St. Louis chairman for the Poor People’s March on Washington — an event planned by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and which took place just a month after King’s assassination.
In 1980, Suggs and two partners purchased the then-struggling St. Louis American. Four years later, Suggs was majority shareholder and overseeing daily operations.
As publisher, he raised capital, reduced debt, added staff and — critically — recast the “paid” tabloid into a free community weekly.
Today, the American is the largest independent newspaper in Missouri and one of the largest African-American papers in the nation. It has won more than 200 local, regional and national awards in the last three years alone.