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To Bear Fruit For Our Race College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences

World War II and Military Medicine (1927-1954, Section 6)

National Medical Association began to challenge war department segregation policies

Remembering the discrimination that African-American soldiers experienced during World War I, the National Medical Association (NMA) began to challenge the U.S. War Department’s segregation policies during prewar mobilization in 1940 and 1941. The NMA called for an inclusive democracy and continued its fight after the United States formally entered the fray on December 8, 1941.

While the War Department agreed to allow black doctors and nurses to serve in their professional roles, it dictated that they serve in facilities separated from whites. In creating parallel institutions, the government gave African-American physicians autonomy and a small amount of recognition. However, the maintenance of white separatism reinforced unacceptable notions of racial inferiority.

Separate facilities allowed African-American physicians some autonomy but maintained segregation and reinforced racism

In an effort to divide the members of the NMA and the African-American community and to placate possible protests, the War Department established a hospital at Fort Huachuca in Arizona in 1942. The Department devoted the entire hospital to black soldiers and placed in charge Lieutenant Colonel Midian Bousfield, a past NMA president, who was ordered to recruit an all-black medical staff. Bousfield was the first African American to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, but his unilateral negotiations and the Department’s actions angered the NMA because they undercut NMA’s efforts to break through the military’s color barrier. Moreover, Bousfield soon discovered that the Fort Huachuca hospital was an inadequate facility.

NMA’s board members, including Dr. J.G. Gathings of Houston, voted to censure Bousfield and sent a letter of protest to President Franklin Roosevelt. Black nurses, as historian Darlene Clark Hine illustrates, remained united in their efforts to integrate the nursing corps. Through this unity and with the support of national leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt, they eventually succeeded. In January 1945, the Army Nurses Corps opened to all qualified nurses regardless of race.

These wartime experiences, however, gave all members of the African-American professional class a new determination to end Jim Crow when the war was over. They would no longer be satisfied with simply maintaining and managing parallel institutions. 1



  1. Darlene Clark Hine, “Black Professionals and Race Consciousness: Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, 1890-1950,” Journal of American History 89 (March 2003).

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