- The Tuskegee Veterans Hospital and Its Black Physicians: The Early Years by Mary Kaplan
This brief monograph provides a review of the origins, context, and early history of the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital (now one of the facilities of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System), located on land provided by the academic institution now known as Tuskegee University, in Tuskegee, Alabama. While the central focus of the narrative is on the hospital and its clinics from the hospital's founding in 1923 through the 1950s, the author uses materials on the history of race relations in the United States military, especially during World War I and World War II, to examine the difficulties that black men and women faced while obtaining a medical education, attempting to access hospital privileges in the South and across the nation, and working as hospital staff during the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital's early days. Along the way, the author reminds the reader of the influential and sometimes infamous role of Tuskegee, Alabama, as the home of the prestigious black educational center and the location where the Tuskegee airmen were based and trained. The Tuskegee Veterans Hospital also served as a primary clinical site for the highly unethical and now discredited Tuskegee syphilis studies.
The monograph begins with an introduction that describes health care for black Americans, the segregated nature of the armed services through World War I and beyond, and the provisions that blocked black veterans from hospitals. The seven chapters that follow are somewhat disjointed but collectively trace the political events that led to the construction of the Tuskegee hospital, its early challenges in staffing a facility for black veterans with an all-white professional staff, the black physician pioneers who followed, the challenges of practicing medicine in the segregated South, and a brief summary of events in the hospital's history from the early 1960s to 1986. Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, a pioneer in the field of neuropathology in Boston, Massachusetts, was a key figure who trained black physicians who later staffed the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital.
The book includes materials from local newspapers as well as several photographs of key individuals, the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital's grounds and buildings, and important events in its history. Brief vignettes about black physicians who played important roles in managing the hospital can be found in the final chapter, which is followed by chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index. The author integrates available archival material into the narrative fairly effectively, but more care in the preparation of the index would have improved its utility.
While this monograph addresses an interesting and previously under-researched aspect of the history of medicine and health care, the narrative lacks an overriding thesis and an organizational structure. At times, it seems that too many facts are inserted into the narrative, while at other times the study lacks focus on the challenges to health care access that black veterans faced in the South. All in all, this book contributes to the history of medicine with considerable factual evidence, but it leaves this reviewer thirsting for more. [End Page 206]