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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Encountering segregation in North Carolina medical practice

Best was in "the eye of the storm" of the struggle over segregated medical practice in North Carolina, he recalls. He set up practice in 1954 and immediately encountered a state medical society that limited the participation of its African-American members. Pitt Memorial Hospital, where Best began working, accepted African-American doctors as early as 1954, perhaps because its construction used federal funds.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
What kind of training did you receive in your internship?
ANDREW BEST:
General practice, including obstetrics and gynecology. I had a rotation in anesthesiology, too. They let me out of the army a little early, in December 1953, and I came to Greenville to set up the practice of family medicine. Then in 1954, I got affiliated with the Old North State Medical Society as a formal organization. From my association with the Old North State, I was right in the eye of the storm of changes in health care delivery. We were fighting the problem of segregation, which was a real problem for us minority doctors. I happened to be there when the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina offered us scientific membership. Of course, Dr. Emery Rand, a family practitioner from Charlotte, and Dr. Joe Gordon, a radiologist from Winston-Salem, accepted the scientific membership, but the organization as a whole rejected it, because we could attend the scientific sessions, but none of the social sessions. We of the Old North State, the majority of us rejected that. I don't know what year they decided to offer us full membership, do you happen to know?
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
When I talked to Dr. Cochran last weekend, I don't believe it was until the late '60s.
ANDREW BEST:
It was some time. But after they offered us full membership, I joined the North Carolina Medical Society also. I was a member of both groups. In the late '60s and early '70s, when we started to accelerate our efforts for a medical school here in Greenville, I was on one of the reference committees. I was actively involved in the workings of the North Carolina Medical Society because I was one of the real members after that desegregation. There was a lot that I think I was able to help get accomplished in helping to get the medical school here [at Eastern Carolina University]. I might mention in passing that when I got ready to go into practice, the hospital in Kinston was owned by a group of private doctors, who had not opened the staff of ( ) Hospital. Of course, when they built a new structure, they named it Lenoir Memorial. In considering a place to practice, Pitt County Memorial Hospital had been built, and there were two minority doctors here in Greenville, and they had been accepted on the staff. Presumably because this hospital had been constructed with the help of Hill-Burton federal funds, with the implication that it would have to have an open staff. The two minority physicians in Greenville were members of the staff before I got here. One of these members, Dr. James Battle, had a heart attack and died, and Dr. Harold Kelly got drafted into the service. So that left the city open, as far as any minority physicians were concerned. When I came aboard on January 1, 1954, I applied for staff privileges at Pitt Memorial, and I was approved and got on the staff. There were some efforts to influence me to come to Kinston, but one of the great deciding factors between Greenville and Kinston was the hospital situation. Where the staff at Pitt Memorial was already open, because the group managing this hospital didn't feel like it had a good legal stance to keep minorities out in Greenville, the door wasn't open in Kinston. So that in itself largely decided where I would come to practice.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Do you happen to know when the Pitt County Hospital was built?
ANDREW BEST:
After World War II, I don't know exactly. It was pretty new when I got there in '54.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Lenoir Memorial, was it a county hospital?
ANDREW BEST:
It was a county hospital, but it was the successor to the old Parrot Hospital. I don't know exactly what year it was built.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
I wonder if Lenoir got any federal money to build their hospital?
ANDREW BEST:
It's only been in the last year that Lenoir has opened its doors to a minority physician. But I am told by Dr. John J. Hannibal, who was a minority physician in Kinston who just retired, that they invited him and my family physician, Dr. Harrison, to join. But they did not accept, because I understand that they wanted to limit their privileges, so neither Dr. Hannibal nor Dr. Harrison accepted any sort of invitation to become members of that staff. It's been only recently, in the past two years or so, that any minority physicians were members of the staff at Lenoir County.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
It's interesting that as early as '54, Pitt County was opening admitting rights to minority physicians, because a lot of hospitals, even those built with Hill-Burton funds, didn't. I wonder what made the difference at that hospital?
ANDREW BEST:
I have been told that the use of federal Hill-Burton funds set the stage so that the attitude of the people here at Pitt Memorial would go ahead and open their doors.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Some people must have taken that more seriously than others.
ANDREW BEST:
I'm sure that there were people who were segregationists born, segregationist bred, and going to be segregationist even after they're dead. Those "now and forevermore" like George Wallaceߞof course, Governor Wallace has changed now in his old decrepit age. But one of his pet statements was "segregation foreverߞtoday, tomorrow and forever."