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James Earl King Hildreth (1956–)

James Earl King Hildreth, a leading HIV/AIDS researcher, is dean of University of California–Davis College of Biological Sciences. Previously, he was employed by Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was director for the Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research; program director of the Research Centers in Minority Institutions; director of the Meharry Center for Translational Research; associate director at the Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for AIDS Research; and professor of internal medicine, microbiology, and immunology. At the Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research, he worked on a cream that kills the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

James Earl Hildreth was born in Camden (Ouachita County) on December 27, 1956, to Lucy and R. J. Hildreth. He is the youngest of seven children. In 1968, his father died of renal cancer. Around this time, Hildreth began to think about becoming a physician. He began to read books about medical schools and doctors and discovered that a high percentage of students from Harvard University were accepted into medical school. From then on, he worked hard in school with the goal of being accepted into Harvard.

Hildreth applied to many colleges, including Harvard, after receiving high scores on his ACT and SAT exams. Hildreth graduated from Camden High School at the top of his class and went to Harvard. To help pay for college, Hildreth worked as a carpenter. He also applied for the Rhodes scholarship at the end of October 1978 and became one of thirty-two American Rhodes scholars and the first African-American American Rhodes scholar from Arkansas.

In 1979, Hildreth graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in chemistry. He then went to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes scholar. A year later, he married Phyllis King. He had to get permission from the Rhodes Trust because he was not allowed to marry as a Rhodes scholar. To honor his wife, he added King to his name. They have two children.

Hildreth was in England for three years, and, in 1982, he earned his doctorate in immunology. He then returned to the United States to attend Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, where he earned a medical degree in 1987. He taught at Johns Hopkins and was an associate dean until 2005, when he left for Meharry Medical College in Nashville. He became dean of the University of California–Davis College of Biological Sciences on August 1, 2011.

Hildreth’s research focuses on HIV and AIDS. HIV is a virus that attacks the cells of the immune system and leads to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. About fifty percent of the people infected with HIV in the United States live in the South, which is defined as a region consisting of sixteen states and the District of Columbia. African Americans make up less than fourteen percent of the population of the United States but make up forty-five percent of new HIV infections in the country. Hildreth and his researchers are studying drugs to help prevent the spread of HIV. He was given a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to partner with black churches in thirteen states for the purpose of educating people about HIV.

Hildreth also traveled to Zambia in 2006 to test his HIV-killing cream, which he began to research in 1986 with the goal of helping developing countries lower their HIV infection rates. For the same reason, he later traveled to South Africa.

He has also written and co-written many publications and has received many awards and honors, including induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009.

For additional information:
Williams, Helaine. “Dr. James Earl King Hildreth.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 17, 2011, p. 1D, 5D.

———. “Hall of Fame to Honor AIDS Scientist Hildreth.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 11, 2009, p. 6E.

Katherine Teske
North Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 10/6/2011

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