Skip Navigation

Remarks Deputy Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D

The 40th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

Thank you Rick. I am truly honored to join Rick, Secretary Tommy Thompson, and Deputy Secretary Claude Allen and all of you today to commemorate this important event - - the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

One of the facts that is not well known in the history of the Act is the significant role the Surgeon General played in carrying out its mandate. In fact, the Surgeon General's office was at the center of the massive and Hurculean effort that Rick described to ensure that hospitals were desegregated in order to receive Medicare funds in the summer of 1966. And so I'm pleased to offer some collective memories of this crusade to integrate America's hospitals and secure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Right Act.

The Surgeon General's involvement began on March 4, 1966, when he sent a letter to every hospital in the country informing them that hospitals receiving federal funds - some 7,000 facilities - had to fully comply with the Civil Rights Act in order to participate in the new Medicare program. These hospitals were put on notice that we would not tolerate separation, discrimination or any other distinction on the basis of race, color or national origin in any activity affecting the care and treatment of patients. No longer was "separate but equal" medical care and services acceptable.

The Surgeon General's letter asked each hospital to fill out some basic information and, based on the data hospitals provided as of April 1966 - only 3 months before the start of Medicare - the picture did not look good. Thousands of hospitals self reported that they still operated segregated services. The problem was particularly acute in Southern states where most hospitals were not integrated.

So, after launching this notice, we readied ourselves to begin compliance work in the field -the crucial groundwork of our efforts. Because the Office for Civil Rights had not yet been created, we had to create a new office - the Office of Equal Health Opportunity within the Surgeon General's office. In order to staff this office, we began recruiting and reassigning staff from throughout the Department - in all more than 700 staff were devoted to this effort.

As recounted by historians, the hundreds of detailees constituted a formidable strike force, albeit a somewhat unlikely combination of everything from bench scientists, veterinarians, and nurses to pharmacists, researchers, and medical officers. Above all, however, these were men and women who through their bravery, commitment and heroism would come to mark their place in the history of the civil rights movement.

This group of 750 volunteers exhibited the determination, commitment, and inspiration that Secretary Thompson always says makes our Department, the Department with the best of public servants in the federal government. In one recounting of a critical moment in the countdown to Medicare compliance, staff were faced with the need to get files to regional offices but faced a pilot's strike that shut down airmail service. This, of course, was long before Federal Express, faxes, or email. Refusing to be daunted, some staff got in cars and drove files to Charlottesville and New York. The Surgeon General cut military orders for senior public health officers and sent them to Andrews Air Force base to fly on military planes to deliver the rest.

This indeed is public service at its best. No wonder when he addressed the Nation on the eve of launching Medicare on June 30, 1966, President Johnson told the American people "Since I signed this historic act last summer, we have made more extensive preparation to launch this program than for any other peaceful undertaking in our Nation's history."

On behalf of the Surgeon General's Office, I am honored and delighted to recognize some of those extraordinary individuals from the original group of this Department who have traveled from near and far to be here with us today…. George Allen, William Barnes, Howard Bennett, Bobby Childers, Marilyn Rose, Marie Chretien, Daniel Galvan, Ruth McVey, and Miles Schulze. They represent our Department's original freedom fighters who made great sacrifices and exhibited great determination and dedication to the cause of desegregation - often, as you'll hear, in the face of concerted resistance. They are champions in every sense of the word and I'd like to share some of their stories as we thank and honor each of these civil rights champions who have been able to join us today.


George Allen

George Allen played a key role in desegregating hospitals in East Texas and Louisiana - areas of the country where some hospitals were quite resistant to integration and the obligation to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

George recalls some hospitals that went to incredible lengths - including outright fraud - to get past the Federal investigators. In one site inspection he conducted, to convince George and other members of his team that it no longer operated segregated wards, the hospital actually asked African American employees to pretend they were patients and lie in hospital beds in rooms with white patients.

Following his work in hospital desegregation in the 1960's, George continued to be a staunch civil rights advocate in OCR's Dallas regional office, where he retired earlier this year after 37 years of dedicated service.

William Barnes

William Barnes also conducted hospital reviews in areas considered bastions of segregation and discrimination. As an investigator in the Atlanta Office for Equal Health Opportunity, Bill played a lead role on teams addressing segregated hospitals in Mississippi and the Southeast.

Bill recalls the local hostility - possibly difficult to appreciate today - that these federal investigators faced. For instance, local sheriffs often were on the look out for rental cars, knowing that they were driven by "the feds," and frequently stopped the drivers to detain them from conducting hospital investigations. On one occasion when Bill was inspecting a hospital, he was actually arrested by a local sheriff and charged with driving a stolen car, only to be released later with clear confirmation from the rental car company.

Mr. Barnes will retire next month after 44 years of Federal service. He devoted 38 years of this service to civil rights enforcement, primarily at the Department of Education.

Howard Bennett

Howard Bennett was one of the original half dozen staff members leading the Title VI compliance effort from Washington, DC. He had a unique and important role: In May and June 1966, in the run-up to Medicare implementation on July 1, 1966, Howard was responsible for producing a daily report for the President on the effort. The report highlighted the progress of the Department's army of 750 volunteers toward the goal of ensuring that facilities participating in Medicare did not engage in segregation.

Mr. Bennett went on to play a lead role at the Office for Civil Rights headquarters, where he served in key management and budget roles.

When Mr. Bennett retired after more than 40 years of public service in 1989, he was surprised to learn that a chart he had quickly drawn up highlighting Federal resources devoted to OCR's Title VI compliance efforts during the early enforcement years had become a part of President Johnson's official presidential library collection.

Bobby Childers

Bobby Childers played a critical role on hospital review teams in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Given his success in educating hospitals about the benefits of Medicare participation, and about requirements to dismantle so-called "separate but equal" services, Bobby was assigned to handle mental health agencies and hospitals in other regions which had strongly resisted compliance.

Bobby also worked hard to enlist labor unions as allies in the fight to desegregate hospitals in the South.

Following his efforts to ensure Title VI compliance, Mr. Childers returned to Federal service at the Social Security Administration, where he served as a district manager.

Marie Chretien

Like many others, Marie Chretien did not expect to become involved in civil rights enforcement. She was a nurse at a public health hospital in New Orleans when she was drafted to participate in the hospital reviews.

Soon, however, she was playing an important role in desegregating the nation's hospitals. In Mississippi, Marie observed and documented hallmarks of hospital segregation that included: separate entrances and separate waiting rooms for black and white patients, separate wings and floors based on race, and room assignments that were made solely on the basis of race.

Ms. Chretian would go on to become not just a full-fledged investigator for the Office for Civil Rights, but one of the Office's longest-serving Regional Managers.

Daniel Galvan

Dan Galvan was the lead investigator of 18 comprehensive hospital reviews in New Orleans. Dan understood the potential for Medicare to serve a powerful vehicle to integrate America's health care system.

In the context of his lead role in the effort to desegregate the nation's hospitals, Dan repeatedly had to deal with the view of established medical associations and organizations that segregation of services was somehow the right and natural course of action.

Dan realized two important things early on: First, doctors would listen more readily to a fellow doctor; and, second, that money talks. So Dan began to bring a physician with him who explained how Medicare would provide assistance in their programs, as Dan explained the legal responsibilities of participants to comply with Title VI.

Following the work he did to desegregate the nation's hospitals, Mr. Galvan served in key management roles in the Dallas Regional Office of the Office for Civil Rights for many years.

Ruth McVay

Ruth McVay represents many others who played an unsung role. In addition to conducting site visits, her job involved painstaking, round the clock paperwork, as her Baltimore-based team raced toward the July 1, 1966 Medicare finish line. Ruth was instrumental in reviewing and signing off on the reports from the hospital site visits that would enable the agency to review hospital compliance, and qualify complying hospitals for participation in the Medicare program.

Ruth also prepared, on a daily basis, a statistical report required by the Department of Justice showing hospitals in and out of compliance. In those final weeks, Ruth and her team often worked until 2:00 AM, and started the next day at 6:00 AM.

Ms. McVay devoted her entire career to civil rights enforcement, working from the headquarters office of the Office for Civil Rights.

Marilyn Rose

Marilyn Rose was a member of the General Counsel's staff at HEW. When she heard about President Johnson's decision in March of 1964 to implement civil rights in the new Medicare program, however, the fire was lit - she knew that she wanted to be a part of the historic effort to ensure that Federal funds for this new program would only go to health care facilities that did not discriminate on the basis of race.

Marilyn played a key role in developing and bringing cases against state mental health agencies, and experienced the political pressure that came to bear upon administrators of those facilities as - willingly or unwillingly - they took the needed steps to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Ms. Rose went on to a career in civil rights enforcement at the Center for Law and Social Policy, and subsequently became an Administrative Law judge.

Miles Schulze

Miles Schulze dealt with some of the most entrenched segregated practices and facilities. At one of the facilities, the Confederate Memorial Medical Center, negotiations with the administrators and board were long and contentious. The Center went to great lengths to resist Title VI compliance efforts, including attempting to enlist politicians as allies.

However, perseverance paid off, and after half a dozen site visits and a full year of negotiations, the Center finally agreed to serve people of all races in the same manner.

Mr. Schultze also played an important role in the next Title VI compliance undertaking - the push to desegregate the nation's nursing homes.

Mr. Schulze went on to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights before completing his many years of Federal Service at the EPA.

Last revised: July 22, 2004