Emory University’s School of Medicine refused to admit Marion Hood more than six decades ago because he was Black. Last week, as part of its Juneteenth programming, the school apologized to Hood, now 83, at a virtual event for students, faculty and staff members.
“In 1959, Marion Hood received a letter of rejection for no other reason than the fact that he was Black. To those who understand the history of our country that should not be a surprise,” the university’s president, Gregory L. Fenves, said at the event. “This one individual and this one letter vividly shows the systematic injustice of that time and the legacy Emory is still reckoning with.”
Hood at the event said he decided to pursue medicine after accompanying his mother, who was a nurse, to the doctor while he was around seven years old. After graduating from Clark College in 1959, he was ready to go to medical school. Emory was not on his list of medical school options. However, he decided to apply after Clark College gave an Emory University professor an honorary degree.
“And when they gave him the honorary degree, I said to myself, ‘Gosh, he can come over here at my school and get an honorary degree, and I can’t even put my foot on his campus,'” Hood said. “And I didn’t think that was quite right.”
Thus, in 1959, Hood applied to Emory’s medical school. He had then already applied to Howard University and the Meharry School of Medicine. In less than a week, Emory rejected him and returned his $5 admissions fee. “I am sorry I must write you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race,” wrote L. L. Clegg, the school’s director of admissions at the time.
“I don’t even know if they looked at my credentials,” Hood said.
He didn’t give up at the time as he went on to attend medical school at Loyola University in Chicago, specializing in gynecology and obstetrics. Hood opened an Atlanta practice in 1974 and delivered over 7,000 babies before he retired in 2008, according to AJC. The rejection letter from Emory hangs in a frame in his home as a reminder about “how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go, and how the cycle repeats itself.”
“Life is full of hurdles,” Hood said at the event. “But the thing that I thought is if there’s a hurdle there, there must be a way to get around it or over it.”
Emory, named after John Emory, a Maryland bishop who owned slaves, did not desegregate until 1962. It admitted its first Black medical student, Hamilton E. Holmes, in 1963.
“As a university, acknowledging our past is a necessary step toward an empowered future,” said Carolyn Meltzer, the School of Medicine’s executive associate dean for faculty academic advancement, leadership and inclusion, in a statement. “Our conversations with Dr. Hood have solidified the School of Medicine’s commitment to accountability, in alignment with the university’s strategic goals for a more inclusive Emory.”