Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Dr. Jim Crow: The University of North Carolina, the Regional Medical School for Negroes, and the Desegregation of Southern Medical Education, 1945-1960

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Dr. Jim Crow: The University of North Carolina, the Regional Medical School for Negroes, and the Desegregation of Southern Medical Education, 1945-1960

Article excerpt

In February 1951, just before the controversy began to heat up over admitting the first African American student to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Dean Walter Reece Berryhill received a letter from J. Charles Jordan, president of the Old North State Medical Society (ONSMS). The ONSMS, founded in 1887, was the nation's oldest black state medical society and affiliated with the National Medical Association (NMA), founded in 1895, and a membership of more than 2,000 black physicians nationwide by 1950. Jordan protested that there were "less facilities provided for the training of Negro medical aspirants in the entire United States than there are for North Carolina's approximately two million white people." Such a situation was "greatly jeopardizing the health of all the citizens of our State," and Jordan demanded that "there must be some provision made for the training of Negro doctors in North Carolina." But Jordan went further to beseech Berryhill and his colleagues, in the name of Christianity and democracy, "to consider immediately and seriously the admission of Negroes to the University of North Carolina, which is being maintained out of State funds provided by all citizens, black and white alike." (1) This essay focuses on the ferment over medical education for African Americans in North Carolina between 1945 and 1960 within the context of the campaign by the NMA and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to erase the color line in medical schools. Education, civil rights, medicine, and public policy converged in the desegregation of medical education, which allows important comparisons with the concurrent efforts to overturn institutionalized segregation in elementary, secondary, and higher education and in the federal hospital construction program initiated in 1946 by the Hill-Burton Act.

WORLD WAR II: CATALYST FOR HEALTH AND CIVIL RIGHTS REFORM

The U.S. entry into World War II gave the civil rights and health reform movements new urgency in international and domestic settings. The war galvanized African Americans to pursue the "Double V": victory over fascism abroad and racism at home. Americans of all backgrounds reexamined their country's race relations in the light of wartime rhetoric that painted the U.S. and her allies as the humanitarian defenders of freedom and equality. Wartime draft rejection figures revealed startling health deficiencies with 71 percent of black recruits from North Carolina deemed unfit for service, and 49 percent of whites, the country's highest rate of draft rejections. National leaders, such as Surgeon General Thomas Parran, saw expanding the health manpower supply essential for national security. The NMA/NAACP campaign to desegregate medical education after the war converged with growing calls to increase the number of black as well as white medical school graduates. With 2,100 practicing physicians in 1945, North Carolina ranked 45th in the ratio of doctors to population. W. C. Davison, dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, estimated that 1,500 additional doctors were needed to provide one doctor per 1,000 people. The situation was even more dire in regard to African Americans: nearly one million black North Carolinians were served by only 129 black physicians, fewer than one in ten of whom practiced in rural communities. (2)

Yet the expansion of the South's twenty-six medical schools (one-third of the nation's total) took place in the context of the hardening of white southerners' resolve to defend segregation against challenges from the federal government as well as from within the state. White moderates and the Southern Governors Conference proposed to educate all southern black health professionals at a single regional medical school in order to avoid desegregating white universities. (3) In North Carolina, black activists' demands that the University of North Carolina (UNC) either open its doors to black students or that the state establish a separate black medical school revealed cracks in the edifice of Jim Crow, as a growing number of university officials and faculty circumvented or openly opposed the racially exclusive admissions policies defended by the upper administration. …

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