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Thursday, August 20, 2020

American Academy of Pediatrics apologizes for historic racism

Physicians group apologizes for intolerance of its first Black members and pediatricians. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued an apology for the organization’s past racism and intolerance of the first Black members.

The formal apology includes quotes from board meetings in the 1940s that highlight the initial rejections of Black doctors, specifically Alonzo deGrate Smith, MD, and Roland Boyd Scott, MD, who were refused membership in 1939 because of their race. 

Both men were ultimately accepted in the late 40’s. But they were only allowed to join for educational purposes and could not attend meetings in the South, per New York Times.

Read More: Pharrell says ‘We deserve a Black future’ in essay on racism

“This apology is long overdue,” said Dr. Sally Goza, the organization’s president, in a press release. “But we must also acknowledge where we have failed to live up to our ideals.” 

An excerpt of the minutes from the organization’s 1945 executive board meeting has been published online, check out out below:

“We talked with (Smith and Scott) for about a half hour and they conducted themselves as gentlemen. They said their only interest in wishing to join the Academy was for educational purposes. They said they would not attend any meetings held South of the Mason and Dixon line. They would attend meetings in other parts of the country, but under no circumstances enter into the social side for the reason that they did not want to get hurt themselves. I impressed upon them the importance should they be elected, of their being leaders and not pushers, and their acceptance in the Academy would be guidance for those who would come at a later time.”

Joseph Wright, MD, the first Black man elected to the AAP board, told Medscape Medical News that minutes from the organization’s executive board meetings in the 40’s had to be unearthed and shared in order to confront the organization’s history of discrimination. 

“There was an insistence that we make sure that we had this right, because no one in our leadership had the lived experience of these two gentlemen,” Wright said.

He also noted that the “torturous and shameful path” that Smith and Scott “endured to membership” had not previously been publicly shared.

“The surfacing of these transcripts renders no doubt in anyone’s mind about what it is that we’re talking about here,” Wright said.

“From their initial rejection in 1939 to their eventual acceptance in 1945, Drs. Smith and Scott were made to bear numerous indignities and clear many hurdles, despite being successful clinicians and established leaders in the pediatric academic community,” Goza said. “In fact, Dr. Scott would go on to receive the Abraham Jacobi Award, the Academy’s highest honor.”

“This apology is long overdue — and a precondition for a better future,” she added.

The AAP’s latest apology and statement will reportedly be published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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