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First African-American Resident Physician at VUMC

THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE — Harold Jordan, MD was the first African-American resident physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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By Tribune Staff

Dr. Harold Willoughby Jordan is the second grandson of Dr. John Henry Jordan and was born in the house in Newnan that John built. Harold was raised there in the shadow of his grandfather. He spent his childhood playing with John’s old medical bag, surrounded by his medical books and lasting legacy. From a young age, it was Harold’s desire to become a doctor, and he knew his parents expected it of him. 

Harold was educated in Newnan and finished high school there before relocating to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College. He graduated from Morehouse with a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1958 and then followed in his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps by enrolling as a student at Meharry Medical College. Harold graduated in 1962 and completed one year of a residency in internal medicine before deciding to pursue psychiatry instead. He was the first black medical resident on record at Vanderbilt University.

After completing his education, Harold became a faculty member at Meharry Medical College and served as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry for 18 years as well as Acting Dean of the School of Medicine. He was loyal to Meharry and only left in the 1970’s to serve as the first black Commissioner of Mental Health for the State of Tennessee. A state building, the Harold W. Jordan Habilitation Center, is named in his honor. 

February 8, 2019 marked the launch of the newest of the named lectures in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences – the Dr. Harold Jordan Diversity and Inclusion Lecture.

Harold Jordan, MD was the first African-American resident physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, completing a general psychiatry residency between 1964 and 1967. Dr. Jordan’s history with the Department of Psychiatry and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine was outlined in the article “Hidden Figure” from the Summer 2017 issue of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine.

 Harold Jordan, M.D., has had a distinguished medical career that includes many highlights, including being chair of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College, his medical alma mater, and serving as acting dean of the School of Medicine at Meharry as well.

Besides his academic career, Jordan was devoted to improving mental health care for the public through governmental service. He was Assistant Commissioner for Psychiatric Services and, following that, Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for the state of Tennessee, and performed those jobs with such distinction that the state named a building in his honor on the campus of Clover Bottom Developmental Center, the state facility for people with severe intellectual disabilities which closed in 2016.

But a lesser-known part of Jordan’s professional life is his role as a pioneer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). In 1964 he became the first African-American resident physician at VUMC.

It’s fair to say that he began that groundbreaking achievement with little fanfare, and it’s fair to say that the achievement has received little fanfare since.

Reached at his home in California, where he moved after retirement, Jordan recalled interviewing with William F. Orr Jr., M.D., who was chair of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt from 1947 to 1969.

“Dr. Lloyd Elam arranged for me to meet Dr. Orr,” he said. With bemused understatement, and the hint of a chuckle, he added, “Obviously, that was very good for me.”

Elam, who later served as President of Meharry, was on the Psychiatry faculty at that institution and recommended that Jordan, who had already done an internship year at Meharry in Internal Medicine, consider a slot at Vanderbilt because, at the time, Meharry did not offer a residency in Psychiatry.

The interview went well, and Orr offered Jordan one of the three residency slots in Psychiatry that year.

But, Jordan recalls, Orr did more than offer him a position.

“Dr. Orr was very encouraging, accepting and protective,” Jordan said, clearly recalling a time when not all institutions exhibited those attitudes toward African-Americans. “He made it clear that I would be accepted. I felt secure. I knew the path was clear for me.”

Jordan’s family roots in medicine are deep; both his great-grandfather and grandfather were physicians who trained at Meharry. When he was growing up in Newnan, Georgia, just south of Atlanta, he heard family tales of his medical forbears and was inspired to follow their footsteps.

“I had wanted to do that since I heard about them,” he said.

Despite the low-key nature with which Jordan’s residency was handled, the groundbreaking nature of what was going on would have been known to all of the participants.

Vanderbilt’s first African-American student, Joseph Johnson Jr., was admitted to the Divinity School in 1953, and in 1956 two black law students had been admitted as well. But despite the presence of a few black students on campus, at that time there were no African-American residents at Vanderbilt Hospital, and it would be two more years, 1966, before the Vanderbilt School of Medicine would admit its first African-American student, Levi Watkins Jr.

“He paved the way for everyone who came after him,” Churchwell said. “To be an African-American resident in a sea of white residents at a Southern medical institution, I would call him a true Robinson Crusoe.”

Just as Vanderbilt was changing in that era, so was the country. As it happened, the day after Jordan began his residency at VUMC, July 1, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, mandating an end to discrimination in public accommodations.

Jordan says the faculty and his fellow residents were encouraging and supportive—“My colleagues were fine—there were no problems in Psychiatry”—but the unusual sight for that time of an African-American physician at Vanderbilt sometimes made for awkward misunderstandings.

“I walked into the Emergency Room [for a consult] and somebody thought I was the janitor and said, ‘The trash is over there,’” he remembered.

From across the decades of an honored career in medicine, Jordan, who turned 80 this year, says he has no ill feeling about such slights. “I would laugh at them, like, ‘What are you talking about?’” he said.

After his three years of residency at VUMC, Jordan pursued his academic career at Meharry and his public service career with the State of Tennessee, but also maintained a clinical appointment on the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine until 2016.

In a 1971 letter in support of Jordan’s faculty appointment at Vanderbilt, Robert M. Reed, M.D., a Psychiatry faculty member of that era, wrote that, since Jordan was the first black resident to train at Vanderbilt, “his original appointment and subsequent performance were watched and monitored by a great many people as constituting something of a ‘test case.’”

He adds, “If indeed it were a test, then Harold passed it with honors, in my opinion.”

Andre Churchwell, M.D., Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs, and Levi Watkins Jr. M.D. Chair, professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering and Radiology and Radiological Sciences, said that Jordan’s contributions to VUMC are important to remember.

“He paved the way for everyone who came after him,” Churchwell said. “To be an African-American resident in a sea of white residents at a Southern medical institution, I would call him a true Robinson Crusoe.”

A 1967 Psychiatry departmental group photo makes Churchwell’s point. It shows 40 or so people lined up around the traditional entrance to the School of Medicine, and Jordan is indeed the only African-American in a sea of white faces.

Given the varieties of reactions to Jordan’s presence and his role at the Medical Center in the mid-1960s, Churchwell added, “The fact that he was studying psychiatry probably helped him.”

For his part, Jordan says his time at Vanderbilt was important to him, both personally and professionally.

“It was a very positive influence,” he said. “I just felt very supported at both Meharry and Vanderbilt. I felt blessed to have had that experience in Psychiatry.”

He is married to Geraldine Crawford Jordan, a Meharry Medical College nursing school graduate. Thy have four children: Harold, Vincent, Karen and Kristi, as well as four grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune

Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

Shirley Weber Sworn in as California’s First Elected Black Secretary of State

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

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As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.
As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

On Jan. 9, with the sound of African drumming in the background, Shirley Weber was sworn in as the first elected Black Secretary of State (SOS) of California and the 32nd person to hold the position.

The ceremony was conducted at the SOS’ auditorium in downtown Sacramento, one block south of the State Capitol.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) administered the oath of office in front of Weber’s grandsons Kadir and Jalil Gakunga.

“I want to thank all of those who work so hard to make this position, the Secretary of State — and all of those wonderful things that come with it — possible, and for being in my life,” Weber said. “I have been blessed beyond imagination with all of the good things California has to give.”

The daughter of a sharecropper from Hope, Arkansas, Weber said she is “not supposed to be here” as the state’s chief clerk, overseeing a department of 500-plus employees.

Weber grew up in a two-room, “clapboard house” in Arkansas with her parents and five other siblings before the family relocated to Los Angeles where they lived in Pueblo Del Rio, a housing project known as the “pueblos.”

Weber said the “data” projected that she would not have a bright future. Still, she went on to graduate from UCLA with a PhD, serve on the San Diego Board of Education, teach African American studies at San Diego State University, and successfully run for California State Assembly in November 2012.

“My father came from Hope, Arkansas, because there was no hope in Hope,” Weber said. “He came to California because he wanted his children to have a better chance and a better life.”

When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla the state’s junior U.S. Senator in January 2021, he nominated Weber as SOS. Padilla filled in for Sen. Kamala Harris, who had been elected U.S Vice President. Weber was officially installed as SOS in April 2021.

Weber’s plan after serving in the Legislature was to move to Ghana, Africa, and “build a house up in the hills.” But that all changed when Newsom called.

“It was hard for me to think about becoming Secretary of State because I was so content in the Assembly,” Weber said. “When I was asked to be Secretary of State, I thought hard and long about it. I realized that everything about the Secretary of State was central to my life. I thought to myself that I am always the one taking the hard challenges. I said who better than a kid of sharecropper, who never had a chance to vote, who could fight for the rights of voters.”

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

In her remarks, Atkins praised Weber’s “leadership” and “morality” and called her “a tireless champion of democracy,” adding that those characteristics are integral to performing the duties of Secretary of State.

Atkins told guests that she first met Weber when she was 24 years old and that Weber helped her run for state Assembly.

For the first time in its history, California has three Black constitutional officers. The others are Controller Malia M. Cohen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

“You know, our constitutional officers are unique, and I give credit to our Governor (Gavin Newsom) and the people of California.”

“There is no other list of constitutional officers like this? Where do you have a list of constitutional officers where it only has one white male in it? That is unheard of. The diversity (and) the fact that women are constitutional officers in California is historic.”

Weber’s daughter, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) was the ceremony’s emcee while Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) provided the invocation. David Bauman’s African drumming and musical selections by Dr. Tecoy Porter, pastor of Genesis Church Sacramento and president of the National Action Network Sacramento Chapter and his Genesis Church choir provided the entertainment. Weber’s son Akil Weber provided the closing statements.

“Words cannot express how truly proud I am of what my mother has done, what she will continue to do, the door she has opened, the legacy she is creating,” Assemblymember Akilah Weber said of her mother.

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