How a Black veteran desegregated a Texas medical college

How a Black veteran desegregated a Texas medical college

When we consider notable civil rights points in medication, the best-known instances could be Henrietta Lacks, whose cells had been taken with out consent for analysis, or the individuals of the syphilis research at Tuskegee, who had been topic to unethical experiments.

These are essential occasions that modified the course of medication, however they’re additionally examples wherein Black folks had been unknowingly harmed as sufferers. Vanessa Northington Gamble, a doctor and researcher at George Washington College, needs us to know extra tales of Black folks actively resisting racism inside medication.

STAT spoke with Gamble a couple of new paper she revealed on Herman A. Barnett III, a Black veteran who desegregated the College of Texas Medical Department in Galveston in 1949. Technically, Barnett was admitted to the college on a contract foundation — to uphold racial segregation, the college management deliberate to construct a wholly separate medical college for Black college students the place Barnett could be required to switch. However that faculty was by no means constructed, and Barnett graduated from UTMB in 1953.


The dialog has been edited for size and readability.

I’d love to start out with the way you got here throughout Barnett’s story and what you about it. 


I’m very within the medical civil rights motion, as a result of there’s not rather a lot written about civil rights activists in medication, be it in hospitals, medical societies, or on this case, medical faculties.

I wrote in regards to the desegregation of the College of Arkansas Faculty of Drugs. That medical college desegregated in 1948. And there have been no troops, there have been no lawsuits, there have been no jeering mobs. And the lady who desegregated that faculty, her title was Edith Irby, later Edith Irby Jones. Arkansas didn’t struggle it. However, in Barnett’s case, there’s Texas not solely combating it, but it surely wished to construct its personal separate medical college for Black folks.

One of many issues that fascinated me about Texas is that it was the one place the place they appropriated the cash for the separate medical college. North Carolina wished to do it. They handed laws, however they didn’t acceptable the cash. So Texas was completely different. There’s a few causes that medical college was by no means constructed, the primary being that after World Struggle II, their medical training turned so costly.

How a Black veteran desegregated a Texas medical college
Vanessa Northington Gamble Courtesy Georgia State College

Though Barnett was part of the college, and he did properly, there was nonetheless segregation. He needed to sit at a desk by himself. He may solely see sufferers on the Black hospital.

The opposite half about Dr. Barnett’s story that’s linked to the broader civil rights narrative is that he was a vet. He had been a Tuskegee airman. So one of many main narratives of the civil rights motion and the medical civil rights motion was: right here had been these individuals who had fought, had served their nation, and couldn’t get into, say, a veteran’s hospital.

Barnett had already been admitted to some medical faculties exterior of Texas when he utilized to UTMB and agreed to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit with the Nationwide Affiliation for the Development of Coloured Individuals if he was not accepted. What made him the appropriate candidate for a possible lawsuit? In fact, he didn’t find yourself being one as a result of he was accepted, however what kind of sacrifice was he making by being keen to do this? 

They couldn’t have any excuses. They couldn’t say he was not certified. He had {qualifications} that matched and exceeded white candidates. There was no query that Barnett needs to be admitted to the College of Texas Medical department. The identical was true with Edith Irby Jones. They had been terribly certified.

However it’s not simply the educational {qualifications}. Additionally they needed to have a sure psychological stamina, too. They didn’t know what would occur once they acquired to highschool. Had been they going to be jeered at? Or was there going to be violence? One of many issues that many individuals don’t learn about Rosa Parks is that it wasn’t simply that sooner or later she determined, I’m not going to rise up. It was that she had been skilled, that she was a civil rights activist. There had been trainings about what to do if someone is up in your face. And so the NAACP wanted somebody who had the mental capabilities but in addition had the stamina. Barnett was somebody who noticed himself as an activist. I didn’t have the room to jot down about this however there was someone who they’d tried to get earlier than Barnett. However he truly determined to not do it. He was undecided that he may take care of the stress.

However I feel Dr. Barnett noticed extra of a sacrifice in going to Chicago or going to Nashville. If he went out of state, he was going to be away from his household. He was going to be away from his help system. He was going to be away from his church. Additionally, there was a powerful perception that he was a Texan. He was a citizen of Texas, his household paid taxes in Texas. Why ought to he be denied a possibility that his white classmates may have?

There’s a quote you present in your analysis, the place someone joked, “What was the state going to do when a Negro utilized for a medical training — construct him an entire medical college?” After which that’s precisely what UTMB tried to do. What can we study as we speak from this story?

One of many issues we will study from this story is the significance of group and group activism in serving to American medication reside as much as its beliefs. It was not the Affiliation of American Medical Faculties, it was civil rights activists and college students pushing for this. So I feel that it requires a broader historical past of medication.

The opposite factor for me is {that a} week or two earlier than this text got here out, a white scholar sued the Texas medical faculties as a result of he didn’t get in. And so for me, it reminds us that we have to proceed to be vigilant about these points, about diversifying medication — that it was not that way back when many of those establishments first began admitting African People. This jogs my memory that it’s nonetheless a battle that I feel we have to be vigilant about.

How does the continued lack of alternatives for Black physicians and clinicians have an effect on affected person care? And the way may that be associated to the truth that desegregation of medical faculties took so lengthy and a lot effort? 

One of many issues that you just noticed occurring in Texas, is that you’ve got a civil rights group principally saying that one of many methods we expect our well being standing may very well be improved is with extra Black physicians, but in addition saying that the state has a task in offering extra Black physicians; that Texas needs to be needs to be offering alternatives for African People.

There nonetheless are so few Black physicians and particularly Black male physicians. I strongly imagine it impacts the standard of care that African People get. And on the identical time, I don’t need to let white physicians off the hook. As a result of most Black folks on this nation, so long as I reside, will in all probability get their care from a white doctor.

Why do you assume there isn’t a lot writing or dialogue in regards to the medical civil rights motion?

One of many issues in regards to the desegregation {of professional} faculties that I don’t assume is broadly identified is that there have been these courtroom instances that predated Brown v. the Board of Training of Topeka. There was a push to desegregate skilled and graduate faculties earlier than elementary faculties, earlier than public faculties. The predominant narrative of the historical past of the civil rights motion in training has been targeted on Brown v. Board of Training of Topeka.

It’s solely been extra just lately that there are students within the historical past of medication who’re medication by way of civil rights. One of many issues I’m actually all in favour of is having a story the place Black folks had been resisting, the place Black folks stood up. And I feel that is an instance the place African People in Texas had been saying, we’re Texas residents. We deserve the appropriate to go to highschool in Texas.

You’re the first girl and first African American to carry your school place on the George Washington College, because the College Professor of Medical Humanities. What does it imply to you to be each the primary girl and first African American to carry your place, over half a century after Irby and Barnett had been starting to desegregate medical establishments?

Effectively, once I was on the school on the College of Wisconsin Medical Faculty, I used to be the primary Black girl ever on the medical college school. Dr. Barnett went to medical college in 1949, and right here we’re over 70 years later, nonetheless speaking in regards to the firsts. It exhibits how rather more work we’ve to do. And a part of my work is that, I could be the primary, however I’ve not performed my job if I’m the final.