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Good Doctors

by John Dittmer
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
  • Publishing date: 19/05/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781596915671
  • ISBN: 1596915676

Synopsis

The untold story of the courageous doctors and nurses who fought the battle for racial justice in hospitals, in clinics, and on the streets in the 1960s.

The Medical Committee for Human Rights was organized in the summer of 1964 by medical professionals, mostly white and Northern, to provide care and support for Civil Rights activists who were organizing black voters in Mississippi. They left their lives and lucrative private practices to march beside and tend the wounds of demonstrators from Freedom Summer, to the March on Selma, to the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968. Galvanized, and sometimes radicalized, by their firsthand view of disenfranchised communities, the MCHR soon expanded its mission to encompass a range of causes from poverty to the war in Vietnam, and later took on the whole of the United States healthcare system. The MCHR doctors soon realized that fighting segregation would mean not just caring for white volunteers, but exposing and correcting the shocking inequalities in segregated health care. They pioneered community health plans and brought medical care to underserved, or unserved, areas.

Though education was the most famous battleground for integration, the appaling injustice of segregated health care had equally devastating consequences. Award-winning historian John Dittmer, author of the classic Civil Rights history Local People, has written an insightful and moving account of a group of idealists who put their careers in the service of the belief, stated in their motto, that "Health Care Is a Human Right."

John Dittmer received the Bancroft Prize and several other awards for Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. He is a professor of history at DePauw University.
The Medical Committee for Human Rights was organized in the summer of 1964 by medical professionals, mostly white and Northern, to provide care and support for Civil Rights activists who were organizing black voters in Mississippi. They left their lives and lucrative private practices to march beside and tend the wounds of demonstrators from Freedom Summer, to the March on Selma, to the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968. Galvanized, and sometimes radicalized, by their firsthand view of disenfranchised communities, the MCHR soon expanded its mission to encompass a range of causes from poverty to the war in Vietnam, and later took on the whole of the United States healthcare system. The MCHR doctors soon realized that fighting segregation would mean not just caring for white volunteers, but exposing and correcting the shocking inequalities in segregated health care. They pioneered community health plans and brought medical care to underserved, or unserved, areas.

Though education was the most famous battleground for integration, the appalling injustice of segregated health care had equally devastating consequences. Award-winning historian John Dittmer, author of the classic Civil Rights history Local People, has written an insightful and moving account of a group of idealists who put their careers in the service of the belief, stated in their motto, that "Health Care Is a Human Right."
?Those who think themselves familiar with the civil rights movement in the United States are in for a welcome surprise.  The Good Doctors by prize-winning historian John Dittmer tells the heroic, and previously overlooked, story of an organization that stood at the barricades in every civil rights struggle from Selma to Chicago to Wounded Knee, battling inequality and racism in the medical profession while setting up clinics that today reach hundreds of thousands of underserved patients.  The Good Doctors should be required reading for every American who views quality health care as a basic human right.”?David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in History
?Those who think themselves familiar with the civil rights movement in the United States are in for a welcome surprise.  The Good Doctors by prize-winning historian John Dittmer tells the heroic, and previously overlooked, story of an organization that stood at the barricades in every civil rights struggle from Selma to Chicago to Wounded Knee, battling inequality and racism in the medical profession while setting up clinics that today reach hundreds of thousands of underserved patients.  The Good Doctors should be required reading for every American who views quality health care as a basic human right.”?David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in History

?This book is an historical landmark. Dittmer’s chronicle of civil rights health care workers is captivating. All of us need to appreciate these brave pioneers.”?Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D., Harvard Medical School

?Deeply researched, brilliantly conceived, beautifully written and unsparing in its analysis of every character who walks across its pages, The Good Doctors is a triumph of passionate scholarship and balanced judgment.”?James H. Jones, author of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

?The good doctors of John Dittmer's history of the Medical Committee for Human Rights labored at the crossroads of American medicine and American racism. Forty years later the nation chose for its President a Black man committed to universal health care, an incredible valedictory to the risky and humanistic work of the MCHR. The Good Doctors relates the beginning of that American journey, the story of health workers confronting a system hardwired to deliver second-class medicine to people of color. The Good Doctors is an important, dramatic and timely contribution to our understanding of racism in medicine and health equity in America.”?Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D., George Washington University

?In this era of racial healing, The Good Doctors is a shocking reminder of how recently Jim Crow reigned over medical care in America. Well into the 1960s, many hospitals and doctors’ offices remained segregated, with blacks given separate and grossly unequal access to beds, waiting rooms, and other basic services. Dittmer tells the tale of the courageous few in the medical profession who fought racial injustice and went on to many other battles in the 1960s and early 1970s. Freedom Summer, Selma, the anti-war movement, Alcatraz, Wounded Knee?they’re all here, in this tour of a turbulent and inspiring time that speaks forcefully to our own.”?Tony Horwitz, author of A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World and Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

?Civil-rights historian Dittmer focuses on one of the lesser-known groups involved in the struggle . . . Dittmer reveals the motivations of many of the organization’s leaders, and he paints a disturbing picture of the shameful treatment of both black doctors and patients in the South. In the early chapters he writes vividly of the challenges facing civil-rights workers and of the brutality?beatings, jailings, killings?inflicted on them . . . A stark reminder not just of the actions of a group of idealistic activists but of the violence and turmoil of the nation’s not-so-distant past.”?Kirkus Reviews

?Dittmer uses interviews plus other primary and secondary sources to shed light on an organization that has remained largely unchronicled. Clearly presented and absorbing, this is recommended for public libraries as well as academic and medical libraries with medical history collections.”?Dick Maxwell, Library Journal

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  • An important and untold historical account of medicine and civil rights
    From Amazon

    The Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) was created in 1964 to provide medical care to civil rights workers during Freedom Summer, the grass roots program that sought to register thousands of black Mississippians to vote. The Magnolia State in the mid-1960s was the poorest and most repressive state in the Union, as many of its black citizens were starving, dying from preventable illness, and in great fear of seeking their civil rights due to hostile whites, state and local police that brutally preserved the status quo, and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South. The MCHR expanded its operations throughout the South, after some initial missteps, and played a major role in desegregating hospitals that were in violation of federal law, providing health care and education for blacks who had never been seen by a physician, and treating activists and local residents felled by police and angry mobs during civil rights marches and demonstrations. The MCHR also took an active role in opposing the Vietnam War, encouraging medical schools to enroll more minority physicians, opening community health centers, and lobbying for universal health care. In later years the effectiveness of the MCHR was diminished by internecine feuds and external opposition, and it withered and collapsed during the early 1980s due to financial difficulty and a lack of purpose. Despite its short existence and limited successes, its efforts continue to bear fruit: many more minority physicians and nurses are in practice in the Deep South and throughout the United States; community health centers continue to operate in underserved areas; and medical organizations such as Doctors for America and Physicians for a National Health Program continue to lobby for universal health care. John Dittmer, a professor of history at DePauw University, does a great service by chronicling the efforts of the MCHR in "The Good Doctors". However, the book is marred by an overemphasis on detail, as the author includes too many people and facts, which made this a difficult book to enjoy. I doubt that I would read it to the end if I wasn't highly interested in the topic. The story of the MCHR is a compelling one, but it deserves a better narrative, and I would only recommend "The Good Doctors" for the reader with a strong desire to learn about this Committee.

  • Disappointing
    From Amazon

    John Dittmer relates the history and development of the Medical Committee for Human Rights and the involvement of the Committee and its members in not only the civil rights movement, but in every "social justice" movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. His stated intent was to give credit to the medical professionals who put themselves into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations in the interest of advancing medical care to blacks, to the poor, and to anyone deprived of access to care because of his or her status in the community. Unfortunately, despite the author's apparent substantial knowledge of the era, the book is so poorly written that it can only leave the interested reader frustrated. At the outset, many scenes and individuals were described in a way that made me feel they were being flashed on a screen. I have read a few books about the civil rights movement, but only after I had read about two-thirds of the book did I have a real sense of who were the significant individual participants in the movement. Someone with no prior knowledge of the events of the times would be at a complete loss to understand and follow the narrative. There are occasional glimpses of how good this book and the telling of this story could be. Chapter 6, The Last March, and Chapter 7, The War at Home, are focused and cohesive. Most of the rest of the book, however, gave the impression of reading newspaper or magazine reports that were thrown together in an attempt to write a book. The writing was anecdotal. Analysis was lacking and there were often sweeping generalizations resulting in unsupported conclusions. Transitions between chapters, and sometimes between paragraphs, were choppy and bordered on the illogical. For those of us interested in the civil rights movement and social justice issues of the era, the subject the author tries to illuminate holds great interest. Perhaps Dittmer wrote this book in a rush. Certainly his editors did him no favors. The information is there; I would like to see the author "take a Mulligan" and do it over.

  • Inspiring
    From Amazon

    John Dittmer's The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care traces a medical organization from its beginnings in the civil rights era to its decline and later demise in the 1980s. A neglected story from the struggle for civil rights, it has ramifications for the ongoing debate over health care reform. The group was originally incarnated as the Medical Committee for Civil Rights in response to the American Medical Association's refusal to promote integration among its member state associations. After a slight name change, volunteers from the MCHR traveled south during the Freedom Summer of 1964. After a narrowly focused beginning , members quickly diversified in interests and became involved in other social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Dittmer does not overlook the internal tensions within the MCHR, yet his respect for the participants is evident. The book is at its best when describing MCHR activities in the 1960s south. Like his Bancroft Prize-winning book, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Dittmer relies heavily on interviews and this section of the book reads as oral history. Later sections seem to become unfocused, reflecting the diversification of the MCHR`s activities, and Dittmer tends to use documentary sources. The Good Doctors assumes some existing familiarity with the Civil Rights Era and its participants, but is otherwise suitable for both academic and lay readers alike. It is an excellent history of a neglected participant in the era. The lingering legacy of segregation and the current drive for universal health care on Capitol Hill make this a history book with timely significance.

  • simply superb
    From Amazon

    Superbly written (and I would expect nothing less from this author), The Good Doctors examines the creation, role, activism and struggles of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, which started as an organization to help out civil rights workers in the south during the early 1960s. The committee's statement of purpose: "We are deeply concerned with the health needs of the socially deprived. It is our purpose to initiate activities to improve their health status and to provide professional support and assistance to organizations concerned with human rights." (62). That is precisely what the members of this committee (physicians, nurses, other health care professionals) did, whether it be for civil rights workers in Mississippi or other places in the south, or to offer medical aid to those who marched in Selma (and other places). The Committee also worked tirelessly to gather evidence of racial discrimination in the cases of hospitals and medical officials who had taken federal funding but who were actively discriminating against African-Americans not only in the south, but in other parts of the country as well. Members were often attacked by law enforcement while they were in the Jim Crow-ruled American South, making their jobs even tougher but still they kept on with their work. The members set up health clinics and tried to get to the root of social injustice and help locals to gain some sense of self-empowerment. Members were there at Wounded Knee, at Alcatraz, at the Chicago Democratic Convention, at various anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the list goes on. The Committee worked to try to get the message across to politicians, the AMA and other organizations that health care is not a privilege, but rather a human right, through their efforts to support a national health program. The most impressive part of this book (not that the whole thing isn't great) was Dittmer's examination of how the MCHR went from its original conception to the "medical arm of the new left." From the Black Panthers on down to the Progressive Labor Party in the 1970s and beyond, Dittmer shows how national and local politics, infighting among factions in the local Committee chapters and at higher levels, and other factors changed the face of MCHR as the decades progressed. The changing face of Black activism, taking on a more "Black Nationalism" tone, the wave of ideologies of the revolutionary organizations and parties in the 70s also led to changes in the organization. Dittmer does an excellent job in examining these phenomenon. Finally, not only does Dittmer view the Committee as an entity in its own right, but he goes on in some detail to examine the motivations and backgrounds of the founding members, and those who joined later, as well as the hard and often dangerous being work done by individual members out in the field, anywhere where racism & poverty often kept people in ignorance or prevented people from receiving decent health care or other basic civil rights. I can't really do this book justice in a few short paragraphs, but it is simply excellent. Anyone with any interest in a more in-depth look at the Civil Rights Movement itself, or as it is connected to the history of medicine in the US should read this book. I highly recommend it.

  • Healing Rights
    From Amazon

    This book outlines a process whereby health care is a human right and not a priviledge. The medical committee for human rights in their committment for social justice in health care creates a path into healing that is attainable. It has long been noted that money buys you better care. This book is an attempt to share ideas on how this is not necessary and what can be done to elicit care as a fundamental obligation to all. The Path into Healing

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