Juneteenth event to feature acclaimed doctor who overcame medical school rejection based on race

By Stacey Jones | Emory Report | June 9, 2021

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In 1959, Emory’s School of Medicine rejected applicant Marion Hood because of his race. Hood, who went on to a distinguished career as a doctor, will share his story of resilience in a virtual event June 17. Photo via Fox 5 News.

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In 1959, the waning days of the Jim Crow era, Clark College graduate Marion Gerald Hood applied to Emory University School of Medicine. The response from the school’s director of admissions, L. L. Clegg, was pointed and swift: “I am sorry I must write you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race.”

The school returned Hood’s $5 application fee. “I don’t even know if they looked at my credentials,” he says.  Hood went on to attend medical school at Loyola University in Chicago and to enjoy a long and distinguished career in gynecology and obstetrics in Atlanta. 

In one of the peculiarities of the segregation era, the state of Georgia paid Black students the difference in cost to attend school out of state. “If it cost $500 a year to go to school in Georgia, and it cost $1,000 to go up there, they would pay the extra $500 so I would pay the same thing,” Hood explains. He returned to Georgia from Illinois at the beginning of every term to pick up the state’s check. 

In 1962, when Hood was starting medical school, Emory officially desegregated, after the Georgia Supreme Court sided with the university in its challenge to state laws which denied tax-exempt status to schools that racially integrated. The university admitted its first Black medical student, Hamilton E. Holmes, in 1963.

On June 17, nearly 62 years after its rejection of his application, the School of Medicine will formally apologize to Hood and invite him to share with the Emory community his story of tenacity and resilience. “Giving Voice: The Rest of His Story with Dr. Marion Hood” is being held to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration of June 19, 1865, when news of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas. School of Medicine faculty members Sheryl Heron and Carolyn Meltzer will moderate the event.

“Advancing the School of Medicine’s lens to a climate and culture of inclusion and belonging cannot be done without restorative justice. As a university, acknowledging our past is a necessary step toward an empowered future,” says Meltzer, the School of Medicine’s executive associate dean for faculty academic advancement, leadership and Inclusion. “Our conversations with Dr. Hood have solidified the School of Medicine's commitment to accountability, in alignment with the university's strategic goals for a more inclusive Emory.”

Emory first celebrated Juneteenth in 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. It is one of several initiatives undertaken by the university in an effort to look at its history in an honest and unflinching manner. According to Carol Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, “This important event serves as an anchor to the long arc of continuous communication and collaboration among schools, divisions and departments throughout Emory around diversity, equity and inclusion. We appreciate Dr. Hood’s interest in helping us on this journey.”

“The realities of Dr. Hood’s rejection for admission to Emory School of Medicine, notably during the time of segregation, will not and should not diminish Dr. Hood's accomplishments,” says Heron, associate dean of community engagement, equity and inclusion at the School of Medicine. “He continues to work to this day, exemplifying his commitment to the field of medicine and dedication to the many patients who have benefitted from his care.”

“Giving Voice” will take place virtually on June 17, from noon to 1:00 p.m. Register for this free, public event here.