More than six decades after Marion Hood was rejected by Emory University School of Medicine, he received another letter from the school. This time, it was an apology for refusing to admit him into its medical program because he was Black.
“Your rejection letter serves as a somber reminder that generations of talented young men and women were denied educational opportunities because of their race, and our society was denied their full potential,” said the letter, which was sent in March and signed by Vikas Sukhatme, dean of Emory University School of Medicine. “An apology does not undo our actions. It is an acknowledgment of the pain that was caused by our school, and an opportunity for us to share our regret directly with you.”
As part of its Juneteenth programming, Emory University School of Medicine on Thursday apologized to Hood, now 83, at a virtual event for students, faculty and staff members.
“In 1959, Marion Hood received a letter of rejection for no other reason than the fact that he was Black. To those who understand the history of our country, that should not be a surprise,” Emory President Gregory Fenves said at the event. “This one individual and this one letter vividly shows the systematic injustice of that time and the legacy Emory is still reckoning with.”
Hood decided to pursue medicine when he was about 8 years old, after accompanying his mother, who was a nurse, to the doctor.
At Thursday’s event, he told the story of how he and his mother were ushered into the practice through the back door of the building and waited in a room that had no furniture, only Coca-Cola crates to sit on. They waited until the last person was seen, then the doctor saw Hood’s mother.
“I was fuming,” Hood said. “I said to myself that if I was a physician, my mother and my kind would not have to go in through the back door, or wait that long just to be seen.”
Hood, who eventually studied medicine at Loyola University, in Chicago, has had a long practice as a gynecologist and obstetrician in Atlanta.
He decided to apply to Emory after he graduated from Clark College, now known as Clark Atlanta University. During his graduation ceremony, Clark, a historically Black university, awarded an honorary degree to an Emory University professor.
Emory was yet to be desegregated and wouldn’t accept its first Black student until 1963.
“I thought, ‘He can come to my school and get an honorary degree and I can’t put my foot on his campus,’” Hood recalled. “I didn’t think that was quite right.”
Hood had already applied to Howard University and Meharry School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, and then decided to apply to Emory. A week later, on Aug. 5, 1959, he got a letter signed by the director of admissions at the time saying he was rejected.
“I am sorry I must write you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race,” the letter read, according to a story by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I regret that we cannot help you.”
In determining how to apologize to Hood, Emory offered him an honorary degree. He told school officials he didn’t need a degree anymore, but the opportunity to tell his story to marginalized students appealed to him.
Hood said in an interview Friday that it was important for people to know that although he did get accepted to medical school eventually, he still faced discrimination.
Hood still has the letter framed in his basement where only friends can see it.
He used to have it in his office, where he would use it as a reminder to new medical students about “how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go, and how the cycle repeats itself.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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