‘Long overdue’ – After 80 years, U.S. pediatrics apologize for racism against black doctors

Theodora Aidoo July 30, 2020
Dr. Roland Scott, left, and Dr. Alonzo deGrate Smith - Pic Credit: AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a formal apology for past racist behaviour against the two black physicians it repeatedly rejected membership 80 years ago.

Nine years after AAP was founded, Doctors Alonzo deGrate Smith and Roland Boyd Scott first applied for membership in 1939. However, their applications were rejected.

“When they applied to AAP to become members, they faced a ‘shameful gauntlet to membership’ that lasted six years, through multiple meetings of the AAP Executive Committee,” the pediatrics group said.

The APP revealed that Smith and Scott were clinicians and faculty members at Howard University College of Medicine. Due to systemic racism, they were unable to join either their local chapter of the American Medical Association or gain admitting privileges at local hospitals.

They were finally admitted in 1945, becoming the first two black AAP members in the organization, and went on to become the first black board certified doctors in pediatrics in 1934.

While Scott became a researcher of sickle cell in addition to his involvement at Howard University, Smith became a professor at the college focusing on medical research and raising awareness for children’s health issues.

Although both men have now died, AAP has issued an apology over the position it took some eight decades ago.

“This apology is long overdue,” AAP President Dr. Sally Goza said when the group released a new policy statement Wednesday. The statement includes quotes from the 1940s meeting minutes of the AAP Executive Board and the racist beliefs of some of its early leaders.

Quotes from AAP Board proceedings in 1944 read thus: “I know Smith and he is a very nice fellow. Scott has for a year or two attended the Sunday morning clinical conferences at Children’s Hospital. He has taken part in the discussion of cases at Freedman’s Hospital. I think the local men in Washington would like to have something to say about men taken into the Academy from that particular location. I think they would rather resent an effort being made to put these men in. I would like to hear what [Region II Chairman] has to say.

“We allow negroes to come to our meeting and we fix a separate place for them to sit. They do not become members. If they became members they would want to come and eat with you at the table. You cannot hold them down.”

“The AAP is celebrating our 90th anniversary this year and we have accomplished a lot of good things for children,” Ms Goza said. “But we must also acknowledge where we have failed to live up to our ideals. That is the only way we can work together to build a better future.”

 “Formally reckoning with past transgressions and calling racism by name” was the “only path forward” for the equality to be achieved within the organization, Dr Joseph Wright, a member of the AAP Board of Directors, said.

“At this inflection point in our nation’s history, it is fitting that the Academy is publicly and transparently highlighting its continued leadership commitment to address all threats to the health and we’’-being of children and their families,” Mr Wright said.

A policy statement that includes the apology and the organization’s dedication to eliminating discrimination based on one’s race, sexual orientation, religion or gender identity will be published in September.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: July 30, 2020


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