AMA To Apologize For Past Discrimination
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
NPR has learned that the American Medical Associations intends to apologize to an association of African-American physicians. The apology is for discrimination in the past.
Here's NPR's Brenda Wilson.
BRENDA WILSON: As late as 1950, the American Medical Association passed a resolution that recognized the autonomy of state and local medical societies that make up the organization. At the same time, it urged to these groups to remove racial restrictions on membership, but the AMA continued to refuse to seat representatives of black medical groups.
Eighty-five-year-old Dr. Alvin Thompson is a retired physician who now lives in Seattle, Washington. In 1950, he had just graduated from Howard University's medical school.
ALVIN THOMPSON: A friend of mine and I applied to about 100 different hospitals for internship, and we got answers to none.
WILSON: So he decided to take a residency at the black Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. He also tried to join the local medical society. They were not accepting black physicians. That kind of membership was needed to get board certification in his specialty.
THOMPSON: Without that kind of certification, black or white, you perhaps would not be able to get on a hospital staff.
WILSON: So he joined the Air Force, whose medical personnel, black or white, were automatically accepted as members of the AMA. And he says it has made a world of difference to him in his profession.
Lonnie Bristow, in 1995 elected the first African-American president of the AMA, says Southern medical societies came to be a driving force as early as 1870, when AMA refused to seat the delegation from Howard University.
LONNIE BRISTOW: For a number of years, particularly right after the Civil War, many of the Southern states were able to dominate AMA policy. That does not mean that that was unanimous and that does not mean that those debates and discussions did not occur with great vigor. But for a number of years, the fact of the matter is that the states were able to have a dominant role in race relations.
WILSON: In the 1960s, steps were taken to build relations with the National Medical Association, the leading African-American physicians group, but the NMA opted to retain its autonomy. About a year and a half ago, the AMA provided funding for a taskforce of scholars to examine its past racial history to, in Bristow's words, clear the air.
BRISTOW: The belief was that that if we could get the truth and put it in a proper context, we would be a long ways towards being able to heal the wounds that have occurred over the past well over 150 years of the AMA's existence.
WILSON: But historians say the inability to participate in professional societies has had far-reaching consequences for African-Americans. Among other things, it denied black doctors access to intellectual stimulation, a way to continue their medical education.
Medical historian Edward Halperin, dean of the school of medicine at the University of Louisville, says the AMA has to be held accountable for the actions of those local societies.
EDWARD HALPERIN: These organizations were desegregated through the work of heroic individuals and local action, but this was not a response from the top down. They reacted to pressure from below. You could say they were not players in this. Were they responsible? I think one could rightly accuse them for sins of omission if not for sins of commission.
WILSON: Late today, the AMA confirmed that there will be an announcement tomorrow regarding African-American physicians, but would not elaborate.
Brenda Wilson, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.