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"'We Ought to Go in Texas and I Don't Mean to a Segregated Medical School': Dr. Herman A. Barnett, Black Civil Rights Activists, and the Desegregation of the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1949"

Special Communication, JAMA Internal Medicine,
published online ahead of print, February 6, 2023

In May 1949, Herman A. Barnett III, a 23-year-old Black veteran, applied to The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. His application occurred in the wake of Black student protests against the segregationist policies of The University of Texas and of judicial victories by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to eradicate racial inequalities in state-financed graduate and professional education. Barnett’s application prompted the state to fund a medical school at the Texas State University for Negroes, the only time a state ever attempted to thwart desegregation by financing a separate Black medical school. Barnett was clearly qualified for admission to UTMB, and if the school rejected him, he had agreed to be a plaintiff in an NAACP lawsuit. Legal action was not necessary, however. In August 1949 Barnett was accepted into UTMB, thereby becoming the second African American person to desegregate a Southern medical school. Barnett was technically admitted on a contract basis as a student at the Texas State University for Negroes in Houston and was to have transferred there later. The Black medical school was never built and Barnett graduated from UTMB in 1953. This review analyzes the role that Barnett and Black civil rights activists played in the history of medical education in the US and the dismantlement of racially exclusionary policies in medical schools.


"'Sisters of a Darker Race': African American Graduates of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1867-1925"

Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume 95, Number 2, Summer 2021

During its first seventy-five years (1850–1925), the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) graduated eighteen Black women—more than any other predominantly white medical school. This article examines the lives and careers of these “sisters of a darker race” as they sought a foothold in medicine. Its exclusive focus on WMCP allows historical examination of the experiences of Black medical professionals in a “white space.” This perspective helps illuminate the racism that Black women encountered from their white colleagues. WMCP itself maintained a racially exclusionary internship policy that barred Black women and contributed to a racial divide in the female medical world, making plain its educational objective to prepare African Americans for medical careers in Black medical spaces. Nonetheless, WMCP did prepare this pioneering group of Black women physicians with the education and skills to make significant contributions to medicine and Black communities in the United States and Africa.


"Edith Irby: A Hidden Figure in the History of Medical Education"

Academic Medicine
Volume 94, Number 11, November 2019

Edith Irby entered the University of Arkansas School of Medicine in September 1948, becoming the first African American to desegregate a Southern medical school. Seventy years later, she has become a hidden figure in the history of medical education. The author provides a brief biography of Irby (later Jones) and analyzes the factors that led the University of Arkansas to admit Irby, most notably her scholastic excellence and an innovative legal strategy launched by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to eliminate racial inequalities in graduate and professional education. Irby’s admission prompted intensified efforts by medical civil rights activists to desegregate all U.S. medical schools. The author concludes that the 70th anniversary of Irby’s groundbreaking accomplishment provides an opportunity to acknowledge her significant contribution to the history of medical education and to recognize the continued need to erase persistent racial inequalities in the physician workforce.

“'Outstanding Services to Negro Health': Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Dr. Virginia M. Alexander, and Black Women Physicians’ Public Health Activism"

American Journal of Public Health
Volume 106, Number 8, August 2016

An examination of the lives and careers of physician–activists Dorothy Boulding Ferebee (1898–1972) and Virginia M. Alexander (1899–1949) demonstrates how Black physicians in the first half of the 20th century used public health to improve the health of Black Americans and provides insights into the experiences of Black women physicians. I discuss their professional and personal backgrounds and analyze their divergent strategies to address health inequities. Ferebee used her leadership in Black women’s organizations to develop public health programs and become a national advocate for Black health. Alexander, a Quaker, used her religious connections to urge Whites to combat racism in medicine. She also conducted public health research and connected it to health activism. Both were passionate advocates of health equity long before it gained prominence as a major public health issue. An analysis of their work illuminates past efforts to improve the health of Black Americans.


"'No Struggle, No Fight, No Court Battle': The 1948 Desegregation of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine"

In 1948, over 30 percent of the approved medical schools in the United States excluded black students. However, on September 10, 1948, the University of Arkansas School of Medicine became the first Southern medical school to desegregate when Edith Mae Irby matriculated. Her admission occurred without incident. There were no jeering white mob, no court action, and no federal troops. Irby's admission had its roots in a successful legal campaign launched by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to eradicate racial inequalities in professional and graduate education. A confluence of factors led the University of Arkansas to desegregate. These included the state's lack of the financial resources necessary to comply with U.S. Supreme Court decisions, a climate of racial moderation in Arkansas, shrewd political maneuvering by officials at the University of Arkansas, and Irby's academic accomplishments. Irby's historic admission is frequently overlooked as a historical milestone. Its invisibility is due in part to its sharp contrast to the dominant narratives of school desegregation in the South. Yet, the story of Irby's entrance into medical school is critical for a more complete understanding of the history of medical education and the civil rights movement.


“'There Wasn't a Lot of Comforts in Those Days': African Americans, Public Health, and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic"

Public Health Reports
Volume 25, Issue 3 supplement, April 2010

When the 1918 influenza epidemic began, African American communities were already beset by many public health, medical, and social problems, including racist theories of black biological inferiority, racial barriers in medicine and public health, and poor health status. To address these problems, African Americans mounted efforts such as establishing separate hospitals and professional organizations and repudiating racist scientific theories. Contradicting prevailing theories about African Americans' increased susceptibility to disease, it appears that during the 1918 epidemic the incidence of influenza was lower in African Americans. Although the epidemic had a less devastating impact on African American communities, it still overwhelmed their medical and public health resources. Observations about the lower rates of influenza in African Americans did not derail racist theories about the biological inferiority of black people or overturn conceptualizations of black people as disease threats to white people. When the epidemic ended, the major problems that African Americans faced still remained.

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