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Book and Media Reviews
August 12, 2009

The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care

JAMA. 2009;302(6):691-695. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1167

In the 1960s, racial discrimination was at an all-time high in the South. African Americans were refused the right to vote, the right to health care, and the right to organize to end these practices. African American physicians were denied privileges in local hospitals, and most hospitals were segregated, offering separate and inferior health care to African American patients. During that time, attempts to vote, to integrate segregated areas, or to be involved in civil rights activities were met with violence. Civil rights workers from across the country who went south to assist with community organizing and voter registration were not welcomed by those who favored the status quo, and at times they too faced violence. Racial tensions in the South peaked in the summer of 1964, after the murders of 3 civil rights workers in Mississippi. Because of the paucity of sympathetic and willing physicians, civil rights organizers in Mississippi made a nationwide request for a medical presence in their state; in return, the newly established Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) responded by organizing personnel and resources to support the civil rights movement. The MCHR was founded by a collaborative group of physicians in the north and in Mississippi in an effort to offer medical support to members of civil rights organizations including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Council of Federated Organizations. The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care, by John Dittmer, chronicles the development and activities of the MCHR. The story of this organization is not well known and is only briefly referenced in books and articles about health care reform and civil rights.13

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