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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.



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

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Black History

Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II: A Space Science Inspiration for Generations

For young Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II (1936–2001), the only love in his future was science. Born in Cleveland, his family relocated to Bronx, NY. It was there that he, with the support of his parents, would begin studying what would direct his future.
Arthur first attended an elementary school of which his mother, Hilda Walker, disapproved.



Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II/ Wiki

For young Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II (1936–2001), the only love in his future was science. Born in Cleveland, his family relocated to Bronx, NY. It was there that he, with the support of his parents, would begin studying what would direct his future.
Arthur first attended an elementary school of which his mother, Hilda Walker, disapproved. Teachers there, she alleged, left their classrooms throughout the day to run personal errands. She soon had Arthur transferred to a school outside of their district, where he began to blossom as a student.
It was a combination of the library and his science-related studies that defined Arthur’s goal: to study the universe like Albert Einstein. His mother began to work with him to prepare for the Bronx High School of Science entrance exam. But not everyone would embrace him as a thriving, ambitious student.
While attending high school, his first interest was chemistry. His teacher though, did his best to discourage him from studying any genre of science because “the prospects for Blacks in science were bleak.” Hilda Walker again stepped in, warning the teacher to back off, adding that her son would study whatever he pleased.
By the end of high school, physics had won Arthur’s heart. Hilda then encouraged him to apply to the Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. 
There he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with honors in 1957, and master’s (1958) and doctorate (1962) degrees at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
After completing his education, Walker joined the Air Force as 1st lieutenant. He was assigned to the weapons laboratory, where he developed instrumentation for a rocket-launched satellite to measure Van Allen belt radiation in Earth’s magnetic field. This opportunity and exposure piqued his interest in space-based research.
Post military (1965), Walker joined the Space Physics laboratory of the Aerospace Corporation in Southern California. There, he began investigating the sun’s atmosphere, first at ultraviolet wavelengths, and then X-rays, using rocket-launched instruments.
In the late 1970s, Walker became interested in multilayer technology for making special telescope mirrors that could reflect that radiation. At that time, it was thought to be “a risky and untested concept.” 
Technology he researched and helped develop then is now in wide use, and is aboard two major NASA satellites: the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer.
He also became a professor in the Applied Physics department at Stanford University in 1974.
One of nation’s top scientists in solar research, Walker shot innovative telescopes into space, giving scientists a view of the sun they had never seen before, and from 1987, developed telescopes that have ridden satellites into space, capturing the first pictures of that corona.
Walker spent his lifetime helping women and minority students find careers in science. This resulted in Stanford having more minority graduate physics and applied physics students than any major research university in the country.
Walker died of cancer at his home at Stanford University in 2001.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women



Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.


The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ruth Carol Taylor: Breaking the Sky-High Ceiling

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”



Ruth Carol Taylor. Fair Use Photo

It was the 1950s. The United States had been dubbed “the world’s strongest military power.” The economy was booming. Jobs were overflowing; housing was plentiful. But for Black Americans, racism was on fire, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining speed, and the best-paying jobs were for whites.

The airlines were no exception.

None of this stopped Ruth Carol Taylor (1931–), a journalist and nurse from New York City, from submitting her application to Trans World Airlines (TWA) for the position of airline stewardess (known today as flight attendants).

Her application was rejected almost immediately because she “did not meet the airline’s physical standards.”

Stewardesses, at the time, were selected because of their physical attractiveness and height/weight conformity. But the decision made to reject Taylor’s application was racially motivated. She filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Commission and approached other airlines offering the position.

Mohawk Airlines, a regional passenger airline operating in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, began advertising open positions for stewardesses. The company also announced the open recruitment of Black women. More than 800 applied, and Taylor became one of the new hires. This made her the first African-American airline flight attendant in the US. It was 1958.

When asked about being the only Black hire, Taylor said that she believes it was “due to nearly white-passing skin and features.” She completed her training in early 1959 and was ready to take on her first flight.

After a few months, TWA, threatened by the lawsuit, brought its first Black stewardess onboard: Margaret Grant.

A short time later though, Taylor was grounded. She was let go from Mohawk on another discriminatory practice: she met and married Rex Legall and was forced to resign from her position. A ban against stewardesses being married or pregnant was not uncommon at that time.

Due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am., the no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s.

Taylor and Legall traveled and lived abroad for a few years. After their divorce, Taylor, in 1977, returned to New York City and nursing.

Best known for breaking the color barrier in the airline industry, Taylor was also an activist for minority and women’s rights. In 1963, she covered the March on Washington as a journalist for a British magazine, Flamingo.

By 1977, she began to focus more on her work as an activist. In 1982, she cofounded the Institute for Inter-Racial Harmony Inc. There she developed testing designed to measure racial bias in educational, commercial, and social settings.

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

Today she lives in Brooklyn.

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