Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Gradys.

Segregated Grady Hospital during the Civil Rights era (aka "The Gradys")

Today is January 15, 2012. My name is Kimberly D. Manning and I am a medical doctor. I received my medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. For the past ten years, I have had the honor of teaching Emory University medical students and training Internal Medicine resident physicians at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

And I am a black female.

Fifty years ago today the date was January 15, 1962. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was somewhere blowing out thirty three candles on his birthday cake. During that time, the vast majority of black physicians in the United States were educated at either Meharry Medical College or Howard University School of Medicine--both historically black institutions. In January of 1962 more than a quarter of the population in Atlanta, Georgia was black.

And Grady Hospital was segregated.

"White" Grady and "Colored" Grady. Known by most during those times as "The Gradys"; this plurality serving as the perfect descriptor for these separate but not-so-equal hospitals within one hospital. Yes, in 1962, Grady hospital was segregated.

Fifty years ago today.

Not only segregated. On January 15, 1962, there were no black physicians with staff privileges there. None. As a matter of fact, during that time there were approximately 4,000 hospital beds at hospitals in the Atlanta area. But physicians who looked like me could only practice in less than 500 of them.  438 to be exact.

Fifty years ago today.

If an African-American patient that I cared for as a primary care provider was hospitalized fifty years ago today, yes, they could be admitted at Grady. However, I would have to give up all patient care privileges at the moment they hit the door. Because, you see, while black people could receive care on the segregated C and D wings of the hospital, they could not receive that care from physicians of their same race.

No, they could not.

In January of 1962 there were groups picketing in front of Grady Hospital. Groups like COAHR and others in the community inspired by a thirty-three year old preacher who had become the face of the Civil Rights Movement. The same preacher who preached around the corner from Grady Hospital at Ebenezer Baptist Church. So there they stood. The Committee for the Appeal for Human Rights withstanding hateful stares and venomous words. Young people bravely holding up signs criticizing the inequity of the care offered to "negro" patients at Grady Hospital -- and also the fact that black physicians weren't allowed there. 

Fifty years ago today.

Other than it being just wrong, there were other problems with that whole no-black-doctors thing. See, just like it is now, Grady was the hospital that served the indigent patient population in Atlanta. And just like now, many of those patients were black. With segregation like it was, many of those folks were cared for by black physicians in the community. And back then, your primary doctor was usually who cared for you in the hospital, too.

Unless, of course, you needed to be admitted at Grady. Regardless of your wishes, that nice black doctor of yours would likely have been called a "boy" and sent on his way.

Or "gal" or "nigra" had it been me.

Fifty years ago today.

I guess it was good that there was at least the "colored" Grady. I mean, it could have been worse. In addition to Grady, at least there was Hughes Spalding Hospital (the colored hospital) across the street. Across the street. Yeah. So fifty years ago today, your negro doctor caring for you across the street from Grady couldn't come to care for you there. No, he or she could not. Oh, and if you weren't poor enough to be considered "indigent"? That made it even more complicated.

All that was going on on this day in 1962.

In January of 1962, my father was a freshman in college at Tuskegee Institute. He had graduated from high school in Birmingham, Alabama that previous year and, like many black folks back then, was the first person in his family to go to college. But also like many black folks back then, he wasn't the first smart person in his family.

No, he was not.

My paternal grandmother valued education. She celebrated my father for his academic achievements and applauded his decision to get higher education. Like me, my father excelled at science and things involving interpersonal skills. He enthusiastically told his counselor in 1961 that he wanted to major in Biology and go to medical school. Unfortunately, that counselor discouraged him. Shot down that dream quick, fast and in a hurry telling him that it was too much of a gamble. If a black man is going to go to college and he wants a job, he needs to go get an engineering degree.  And let go of this pipe dream of being a doctor.

"What if you don't get into medical school? Then what?"

Going to college was already a big deal. And it wasn't like there was a doctor in the family for him to call for advice or to counter with, "But what if you do get in, son? What if you do?"


So fifty years ago today, on January 15, 1962, my gifted-in-science father was struggling in math and engineering classes at Tuskegee Institute where it would take him more than six years to graduate. Because that's where the world was back then. Race and gender clearly dictated decisions and created ceilings made of a hell of a lot more than glass.

Me? I chose to go to Meharry Medical College because it was a good fit for me. Not because there was no other option or other place willing to let me fit. But had I thought of medical school on January 15, 1962, my medical education story would be different. It would have been Meharry or Howard or bust.

Or perhaps, for a woman, nothing at all.

Fifty years ago today.

Today I'm reflecting on how far things have come on what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s eighty-third birthday. I am imaging a life for me in his world, a life at Grady Hospital some fifty years ago. And what I am realizing is that I wouldn't have had any kind of life there. At least, not as a doctor. And damn sure not as a teaching physician at Emory.

Oh, did I forget to mention? 1962 was also the first year Emory University integrated its student body. 1963 marked the admission of the first black student in Emory's School of Medicine-- a young man named Hamilton E. Holmes. As for the faculty part, I'm not sure when that part fully changed. I do know that Dr. Asa Yancy Sr. was the first brother-faculty member appointed at Emory which technically took place in the late 1950's (even though he still couldn't get privileges at Grady.) Something tells me that it probably took a little more time to get some sister-doctors on the roster.

But that's just my guess.

So yeah. A lot has gone down in fifty years. So instead of posting the "I Have a Dream" speech or even discussing some of the annoying criticisms that have come up about Dr. King after his death or talking about President Obama or even ranting about how black history should be discussed in more than just the winter months . . . .I am simply sitting here quietly feeling thankful. Thankful that I am right here right now and not fifty years ago today.

And even more thankful that people like Dr. King and my daddy were there.

Sometimes I feel angry that the doors open to me were shut in my father's face. But when I see how proud he and my mother are of their children and what we have become, I feel a little better. And when I listen to his stories of growing up poor, black, and one of eleven children in the epicenter of the Jim Crow era--and I see what he has become--I feel proud, too.

Proud. Proud of where I can go and what I can do. Thanks to all of them taking a whole lot for the team some fifty years ago today.

Kind of makes me wonder what I'm doing for the team.


See? This Civil Rights thing was more than just a notion. A whole lot more. Me? I get to be a Grady doctor. And no, not in the figurative sense--in the literal sense. I literally get to be a Grady doctor because somebody wasn't afraid to be spit at and hosed down and hit across the head with a brick. I get to be a Grady doctor because some surely terrified individuals put themselves in harm's way on Freedom riders' buses and some peaceful young person in my own father's neighborhood got attacked by German shepherds just for standing up. Because of them I get to be where I am right now. A doctor. At Grady.


So to all who lived through it, I say thank you. For every time you had to stand there and hear someone call your grown-ass father a boy or a nigger or your beloved matriarch a gal or a nigra, thank you. To those who bravely went against the grain when it would have been much easier to hunker down in some false sense of pink superiority, thank you, too. Because I know that there was a lot more moving in that movement than just black folks.

Yes, there were.

Today is January 15, 2012. My name is Kimberly D. Manning and I am a medical doctor. I received my medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. For the past ten years, I have had the honor of teaching Emory University medical students and training Internal Medicine resident physicians at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

And I am a black female.


Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

My son, Isaiah. . living the dream.
Now playing on my mental iPod. . .with gratitude.


  1. You do us proud, Dr. Kimberly Manning.

    Fellow Meharrian , Dr. Maria Shindler

  2. And how proud your father and mother must be..and all those that went before you looking down giving you the "nod". I have no similar history but I remember my mother driving me to the center of Charleston SC in 1966 and showing me the "colored men" and "colored women" signs above the rest rooms and above the water fountain at the band stand. She pointed them to me and said to remember what I saw because the world was changing and that I should remember this as a piece of history, a shameful piece of history. And as late as 1970 there were "public" (aka black) and "private" (aka white) wards at Duke University where I studied nursing. I can only shake my head. Thanks for your post. It was beautiful.

  3. Awesome story! Last year I learned that both sets of my great-grandparents and a great-great grandparent on my moms side were landowners. In Mississippi. And they were black. And my great-grandmother was a landowner in North Carolina. And she was black. But only one of them was able to attend school beyond high school. And I have two graduate degrees. So this day celebrating Dr. King, I salute them and all of their descendants who lead to me being me comparatively without limitation.

  4. I'm a medical student at Washington University, and a fellow student emailed your post to our entire school. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Dr Manning, so beautifully written. It is amazing to think that in MY lifetime this outrageous stuff happened. I am just so very grateful the world has changed for the better and that you are a physician who teaches other physicians and shares your compassionate and knowledgable being with us as you do. Happy birthday Dr. King. And God bless you, Dr. Manning. Joanne

  6. Maria -- And you do me proud, too, my fellow Meharrian.

    Mary Alice -- I always love your thoughtful comments. Thank you for your kind words and sharing your story.

    Jameil -- Yes! See? You aren't the first smart person in your family either. I like clarifying that to people. I am the first medical doctor in my family. But not the first one with the brains to be a medical doctor in my family. At all.

    Student Doctor Askin -- I am speechless. Please thank your classmate for sharing these words just as I am thanking you for taking the time to both read and comment on them. I deeply appreciate this--you have no idea.

    Joanne -- You are so gracious with your words as always. And I thank you for it.

  7. Shugsie/Tounces -- Thanks to you I am living the dream indeed. You Re the best mom EVER and I love you, sweet lady!

  8. Thank you Dr Manning for this. Thank you for writing about our Grady,and for Hamilton E Holmes. I wait for the Hamilton E Holmes Marta train to take me to work at Grady as an RN and I (embarrassed) have never known exactly who he was. I am so proud to be a Grady nurse, a native Atlantan, this is where I needed to be.

  9. Awesome post, Dr. Manning !
    And well said !

    As a medic in the Army, an ICU nurse and as an NP, I know everyone bleeds the same color and one of the things I love about working at Grady is that we get to focus on *the patient* regardless of insurance, socioeconomic status, age, gender preference, color - whatever.

    And another huge plus is being given the privilege to work with such great healers as Drs. Haley, Yancey, Heron, Heilpern, Davis, Bowron, Attalah, Capes, Morgan - and yourself - there are so many strong Emory/Grady docs ! - and the list goes on - who always show that principle: caring for the patient as the patient !

    I'm also grateful for all those who have come before me for the freedoms and privileges we all have.

    Happy MLK Day !
    Let us never forget the mission and spirit of equality !

  10. I'm real proud to say that a part of my soul/heart will always be saved for Atlanta. Thankful for your post- thankful for you- thankful for hope and progress.

  11. I am crying... breathless and speechless... grateful to all those who stood up and refused to run, to all those who sat down and refused to leave. I am grateful for my husband and my children, for you and your children, and for the very souls of each and every one of us, because we are better today - better because of what the brave souls of 60 years ago did for all of us.

  12. AweSome! I am crying at my desk.

  13. Just got a chance to read this. Beautifully said. What a perfect day for a magnificent holiday. Especially poignant knowing MLK is in Grady's backyard.
    I remember a patient of mine who worked at Grady wondering why she had to wash the cleaner, nicer sheets for white patients on different days than the dirtier sheets for black patients. They weren't allowed to wash them on the same days. Too many more stories.
    Thank you for these!

  14. I teach at your children's school and today we have the honor of having US Representative John Lewis come to talk to the 3rd - 5th graders. In the computer lab this week I have been sharing with the students a little slice of Mr. Lewis' life and his role in the Civil Rights Movement.

    It is not an easy thing to talk to 8, 9, 10 and 11 year old children about things that went on in our country not very long ago. It sometimes is literally difficult for me to talk about it without a catch in my throat.

    However, like I tell my students, that to take the easy route and not talk about these things, these painful things from our history is to do a huge disservice and dishonor to the men and women who did stand up, who got arrested; got beaten; got killed so that our country could fully live up to its claim of being the land of the free.

    The kids, who are usually very anxious to get to the computer activities were captivated by what they saw. They were confused by the fact that the Alabama State Troopers were using night sticks and tear gas to subdue these peaceful marchers. The people who are supposed to protect us were hurting those who had done no wrong other than stand up against what was wrong.

    Thank you for your post today (and everyday actually). I think it goes a long way to fitting in with the saying of those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it. As a teacher I take that very seriously. Talking about the uncomfortable parts of our history isn't always easy, but it is always worthwhile.

  15. Dr.Manning, I applaud your dedication and professionalism. I grew up in the tail end of segregation in Atlanta, GA. Schools were integrated around 1968. I am white. I am an RN. The only place I ever felt driven to work was Grady. I started work there in 1986, on the old 900D Infant unit. Many of my co-workers were African Americans who had worked at Grady when it was segregated. The stories I heard from them! What a shock, to learn what segregation truly meant. I felt shame, dismay, and just plain sadness. There was still prejudice, family members who couldn't understand why I wanted to work in "that N hospital" And people who would say "never take me to Grady, its just for blacks. I will say this, I was there When Morehouse started sending their medical students over, then their graduates as residents. What a smart, professional bunch they were! They gave the mostly white Emory guys a run for their money! Once again, Dr. Manning, thanks for your story. It is one that needs to be told..

    1. I am reading this article several years after you wrote it, but still feel compelled to comment on its brillance. I am the son of a "Grady baby," and a former Morehouse resident and you may remember me in my latter role as Chief of Trauma for Morehouse Surgery. The Apartheid system of splitting Grady as 15% Morehouse and 75% Emory took a heavy toll on all of us. I still congratulate Morehouse residents after completing the program for no longer being 1/4 of a person. I submit "The Gradys" is still in existence for many of us. After 15 years of the good fight, I acquiesced and left. Interestingly, the trauma departments are to desegregate this month but again one program is out in front while the other still is denigrated. Fantastic article!


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