Reflections During Black History Month
by Watson Ducatel, DO, MPH, FACOI
February 15, 2023
As I enjoyed the cool breeze interrupting the Florida heat, I began to think about this year’s impending annual ritual of reflection specifically executed by me and perhaps millions of others during the month of February. With my attention fully turned towards my thoughts I asked myself what subjects would lie at the center of this February’s reflections and what new knowledge I would seek as a result. Answers burst into my mind the way hot hard kernels of corn transform into popcorn and in a mist of a barrage of thoughts, numbers began to stick out in my mind--1619, 1770, 1776, 1791, 1804, 1830s, 1863, 1865, 1868. The numbers would not stop. Like water overflowing the Niagara Falls they continued….1892, 1920s, 1940s, 1960, 1984, 2014, and then back to 2023.
Immediately I begin to think to myself what’s the connection? And as I continued to sit there, enjoying the breeze, the connections become clearer. 1619 was the year in which America’s most atrocious institution “Human Chattel Enslavement” was established. The next year 1770 is the earliest year of existence for one of my grandparents in America. Following 1770 is 1776 the year of the American Declaration of Independence and 1791 the start of the Haitian war to end the enslavement of people which would lead to the former enslaved Africans in Haiti to declare their independence and freedom. 140 years later, my father would be born in Haiti, the first country in the western hemisphere to grant freedom to all its people. My 4th-great-grandmother is believed to have been born by the 1830s in America.
By 1863, many Americans were engaged in murdering each other with intentions to either preserve the American institution of Human Chattel Enslavement or destroying it. But more resounding in my mind from that year 1863 was the enactment of one of America’s most prized proclamations, the Emancipation Proclamation. A few months ago, I had read again its words with my wife and daughter as we explored one of the most prized museums in Washington, DC, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The words of that document seem to have an unquenchable power over me. In the presence of its words, my ability to move forward with a dry face weakens and suddenly I am aware of my heart beating. I cannot help myself as I imagine often the emotions, the physical arousal those words conjured in the bodies of my great grandparents’ grandparents.
By 1865, my family had been established in America for at least around 100 years and the evil 1619 institution of Human Chattel Enslavement would finally be completely abolished by the United States government with the ratification of the 13th amendment. In 1865, AT Still’s service as Union solider would end as well allowing him to set course on a journey that would change the course of United States history. Three years later in 1868 the ratification of the 14th amendment was fully completed. It defined for the first time in American History who is a citizen allowing my great, great grandparents to be recognized as citizens instead of 3/5ths of a person.
In 1892, A.T. Still would open the first medical school of the Osteopathic profession, the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri. One of my great-great-grandfathers is said to have been around two years old in 1892. By the time he had children of his own in the 1920s, the osteopathic profession had graduated its first brown skinned American osteopathic physician, Dr. Meta L. Christy from Philadelphia College of Infirmary and Osteopathy in 1921. This accomplishment paved the way for other African Americans who choose the osteopathic profession to break glass ceilings, such as William G. Anderson, DO, Barbara Ross-Lee, DO, Arthur I. Bouier, DO, MACOI, and Judith A. Lightfoot, DO, MACOI.
By the 1940s my grandparents would be born and our College as we know it today would be created out of the dust of its predecessor the American Society of Osteopathic Internists In 1941. The College would begin its journey as the academic and social home for osteopathic internists. Its early members would include the founders of osteopathic internal medicine and their first trainees. One early member and internal medicine trainee, Morton Terry, DO, MACOI, considered one of the first osteopathic physicians trained and board certified as an osteopathic Internist would serve our College and profession for decades. He would also indirectly change my life forever after falling in love with Florida during his wedding honeymoon. Dr. Terry decided to move to Florida, a move that would lead to him building an osteopathic empire.
In 1951, Dr. Terry founded the first osteopathic medical institution in South Florida called the Magnolia Hospital and Clinic in Opa-locka, Miami, Florida, with a purpose of building up the osteopathic community and serving the brown skinned Americans whose care options were limited due to discrimination, racism, and prejudice. The hospitals and clinics were segregated. Brown skinned Americans were excluded from the waiting rooms, surgical suites, and clinics. He and other DOs could also relate to the feeling of exclusion, prejudice, and discrimination as DOs were not granted equitable practice rights at hospitals in the area. I have no doubt the feeling of exclusion from the greater medical communities' experience Dr. Terry and DOs in general inspired the creation of more DO hospitals/clinics/medical schools/training programs and the swelling of the profession. Although at a lower level, at the same time, the osteopathic profession was seeing growing numbers of brown skin Americans enter among its ranks.
By 1960, my mother would become the part of the last generation of Americans to experience the deeply segregated south and oppression laws restricting the civil freedoms of some Americans. She was born in a small town in Alabama which had also served as home to her great, great grandparents over 150 years prior. I remember her stories about life in segregated Alabama during the 1960s. Terror is the most fitting single word that comes to my mind when I think about her recounting her experiences. She and some of my other family would ultimately flee Alabama due to the constant threat of violence and oppression. They decided to come to Florida where they believed they would have more opportunity to be relieved of the terror they experienced back home in Alabama. By 1984, I came along and by that time Dr. Terry and others had founded Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine which would later become Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine and my alma mater.
These facts, and so many more are the origins of my current circumstance. Reflecting upon them at this moment during this month of February continues to bring the past, present, and future together. This is the essence of this month’s occasion, Black History Month, a tradition forged from the efforts of historian Carter G. Woodson, the American Society for the Study of African American Life & History, and others. Like many in the early osteopathic profession, Dr. Woodson himself was also sickened by the sting of exclusion. He was denied participation in the American Historical Association because of his skin color despite earning his PhD in history from Harvard in 1912. Today we celebrate and we honor the wonderful tradition he has left for all of us. By continuing his tradition of remembering our past we continue to destroy the feeling of exclusion and create a path for all of us onto the universal highway of humanism. I ask of you with my article’s final words to join us. Happy Black History Month.