AAP apologizes decades after denying pioneering Black doctors membership

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a formal apology for repeatedly denying two Black doctors membership to the academy 80 years ago.

Drs. Alonzo deGrate Smith and Roland Boyd Scott, both Black pediatricians, applied to join the AAP in 1939, and they would find themselves repeatedly rejected and denied membership for a period of six years.

It wasn’t until 1945 that both doctors gained membership in the academy and became the first Black members of the professional association. The AAP issued a statement on Wednesday, apologizing for this past racist transgression.

“This apology is long overdue,” said AAP President Dr. Sally Goza, in the statement. “When they applied to AAP to become members, they faced a ‘shameful gauntlet to membership’ that lasted six years, through multiple meetings of the AAP Executive Committee,” the academy said.

Dr. Roland B. Scott passed away in 2002, and Dr. Alonzo Smith dies in 1970. They each practiced in Washington D.C., and were clinicians and faculty members at Howard University. The men were accepted into the academy only after state chairpersons were consulted about their perspectives on allowing Black doctors into the association. Scott would go on to become a leading researcher in sickle cell anemia in the United States.

In the statement, the AAP also acknowledged that Drs. Scott and Dr. Smith struggled against systemic racism throughout their careers, and were denied acceptance to the American Medical Association, which maintained a segregated chapter in Washington at the time. In addition, the physicians did not have admitting privileges at hospitals.

“The AAP is celebrating our 90th anniversary this year — and we have accomplished a lot of good things for children,” Goza said. “But we must also acknowledge where we have failed to live up to our ideals. That is the only way we can work together to build a better future.”

The official statement will be published in the September issue of the Pediatrics journal.

-Atlanta Black Star