Dr. Martin Luther King on health care injustice

Jan 20, 2023 | Projects

PNHP note: The Associated Press wire story below, dated March 26, 1966, contains the first known published reference to Dr. King’s famous quotation regarding injustice in health care, namely, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”

According to this AP account, Dr. King’s remarks were made at a Chicago press conference held on March 25, 1966, in connection with the annual meeting of Medical Committee for Human Rights. The AP story, which carries no byline, was published the next day in newspapers around the country.

PNHP’s Dr. Quentin Young, who was present at the press conference in his capacity as a leader of MCHR, has frequently attested to the accuracy of the quotation, but until recently he and other PNHP staff were unaware of any published accounts of the proceedings that corroborated his memory.

A slightly different version of Dr. King’s remarks was published in a Cleveland newspaper, the Call and Post, about three weeks later, on April 16, 1966. In that account, produced by the NPI news service, Dr. King is quoted as saying, “Of all forms of discrimination and inequalities, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” It’s reasonable to assume that the AP story, published the day after the press conference, is the more accurate of the two.

Both stories are reproduced below.


King Berates Medical Care Given Negroes

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wis.), March 26, 1966

CHICAGO (AP) – Massive direct-action is needed to “raise the conscience of the nation” to the segregated and inferior medical care received by Negroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said Friday night.

Calling for court suits to force doctors and hospitals to comply with the Civil Rights Act, King and officers of the Medical Committee for Human Rights accused the American Medical Association of a “conspiracy of inaction” in civil rights.

At a press conference before his speech to the committee’s annual meeting. King said: “We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.

“I see no alternative to direct action and creative nonviolence to raise the conscience of the nation.”

Dr. John L. S. Holloman, a New York City physician who heads the interracial committee, told reporters: “There is scarcely a hospital North or South that does not overtly or covertly discriminate against Negroes. County medical societies, especially in the South, have discriminated in admitting qualified Negro doctors.” he said. “We put the blame right on their (the AMA’s) doorstep.” The AMA had no immediate comment.


The same Associated Press wire story appeared in the Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.), the Ironwood Daily Globe (Ironwood, Mich.), and the Mt. Vernon Register News (Mt. Vernon, Ill.), among other outlets.



Three-Pronged Assault Planned for Hospitals

Call and Post (Cleveland), April 16, 1966

CHICAGO (NPI) – Hospitals that discriminate against Negroes face a triple assault – from both private and government sources.

An official of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare said HEW plans to cut off federal aid to hospitals found guilty of practicing discrimination.

Meanwhile, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that civil rights leaders are planning “direct action” against Chicago hospitals that fail to give Negroes equal treatment.

Also, Dr. John L.S. Holloman, Jr., chairman, Medical Committee for Human Rights, revealed that his organization will soon assist in federal suits against hospitals that practice discrimination.

The HEW action was announced by Philip R. Lee, the department’s secretary for health and scientific affairs. Lee said his department is fully prepared to stop funds to hospitals in order to bring about compliance with Title VI of the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

That section of the law forbids the federal government to aid any activity which discriminates on grounds of race or national origin.

Lee said 220 discrimination complaints are on file with HEW.

In announcing his “direct action campaign” against Chicago hospital discrimination, Dr. King noted that the Negro infant mortality rate in the city’s poverty-stricken Woodlawn area is as bad as Mississippi’s rate.

“Of all forms of discrimination and inequalities, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman,” Dr. King said.

The rights leader said federal officials have promised to look into hospital discrimination, but have done nothing.

“We must move beyond sending complaints to Washington and act directly,” he asserted.

He said he had not decided what form is “direct action” program will take.

Dr. King also charged that the American Medical Association has not taken needed steps to end racial discrimination in the treatment received by Negroes and within the AMA itself.

Meanwhile, Dr. John L.S. Holloman, Jr., national chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, announced a program of lawsuits against discrimination-practicing Southern hospitals that will “cover every hospital that is guilty.”

He said his committee would gather data and advise and assist people in the South who would formal open the legal campaign.

The first cases, he said, would be brought in Mississippi, where almost every hospital, he pointed out, discriminates.

Dr. Holloman – like Dr. King – scathingly denounced hospital discrimination in Northern hospitals.

“There is scarcely a Northern hospital that does not discriminate against Negro patients either in commission or omission,” said Dr. Holloman, president-elect of the predominantly Negro National Medical Association.

The hospital discrimination found by the three leaders would not be hard to prove.

Only a week before, a government survey of health and welfare service desegregation in the South revealed widespread non-compliance with the law in federally supported programs, some of them run by state and local governments.

A survey sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that almost all Southern state hospitals remained segregated, with the exception of mental hospitals.

Meanwhile, a nurse who has spent eight months in Holmes County, Miss., revealed that hospitals in the South continue to discriminate – “but these days they’re subtle about it.”

According to Helen Richardson, 31, who served as a nurse and health counselor at a clinic in the Mississippi city, the hospitals have taken down their “Negro Entrance” signs, but they try to avoid admitting Negro patients.

“They’re sneaky about it,” she said.



Articles for reflection in WIN Digest

Sign-up here


Related Articles

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

Our Mission And Approach

Advance intergenerational well-being and equity on a foundation of racial and economic justice.

Our Team

We are change agents passionate about igniting transformation for well-being and equity.

Our Partners

No one changes the world alone. Meet the broader “WE” that we’re building together.

Our Funders

Real change is only possible when we have the support of funders and investors who care about well-being and equity as much as we do.


Looking for community? Get plugged into resources and networks through WE.

  • WE in the World Changemakers
  • Communities RISE Together
  • The Wellbeing in the Nation (WIN) Network
  • Leading Causes of Life


A world of mutual abundance unshackled from systemic injustice is within reach, but it will take all of our contributions to get there.

WE in the World is a non-profit supporting changemakers globally to change the system.


Investing in a better world for our grandchildren.

Stewarding natural resources. Creating space for all races and voices.

Invest in changing the system.

Join Our Team

Explore opportunities to become part of the broader WE in the World team!
  • Job opportunities
  • Consultants corner
  • WE changemakers


Latest News

MLK Day: 5 women who played a vital role in the civil rights movement

MLK Day: 5 women who played a vital role in the civil rights movement

Today we celebrate the legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the many women who also played integral roles in the fight against racial, economic and gender inequalities in America. From lunch counter sit-ins to nonviolent marches, those...


Civil rights and genuine equity

Civil rights and genuine equity

photo by Steven Walker l Unsplash Two Americas In 1967, during the height of the fight for Civil Rights and equity for all, Dr. Malcom...

Making an Equitable Economy Real

Making an Equitable Economy Real

What is a restorative well-being economy? A well-being economy is built on the basic goal of all people and places thriving together. It is an economy that is just, regenerative, and multiracial.  A well-being economy  rebalances power to provide what everyone needs...

Organizing Across Differences

Organizing Across Differences

Our ability to organize across differences is a unique superpower in which we exercise curiosity and share values, goals, and purpose. These superpowers consist of the ability to engage and foster relationships with a mindset and narrative change focused on...