tv Book Discussion on Breaking Ground CSPAN July 5, 2016 6:15am-7:01am EDT
at the library, and i'm happy today, thrilled, to introduce dr. louis sullivan who is -- i have to read because his long list of things -- a policy leader, minority health advocate, author, physician, educator, serves as the secretary of the u.s. department of health and human services under george bush, and was founding dean of the moore house school of medicine and today dr. sullivan will be discussing his recent memoir, "breaking ground. my life in medicine." so welcome. glad to have you. >> the. >> this is a bit different because often i do fiction books, occasionally memoirs, but your story -- there's a lot to talk about here and i wanted to just begin -- it's a hard thing
to say since i'm not a -- can you synopsize your life in two sentences? i wanted you to just in some very brief way tell the audience what this book covers, and then i will delve in and we'll start through going into specifics, and then build from there. >> well, thank you very much. first of all, it's a great pleasure to be here with you, and to be here at the public library. so thank you very much. >> you're welcome. >> i guess what i would say, my autobiography is really the strand of my life story because i was born in 1933 in the depression. my father was a life insurance salesman with -- i was the second of two boys in atlanta, but nobody was buying life insurance.
so my father left atlanta, went to southwest georgia, and established the first black funeral home in blakely, georgia. but beyond that my father was the social activist because this is during the period of legally enforced segregation. and in southwest georgia in those years for blacks was not a very happy place, but my father was an activist. he founded the first chapter of the naacp in blakely. he filed suit against the county and the state to overturn the white primary because blacks could not participate in voting at that time. he also started the annual emancipation day celebration, january 1st of every year, in blakely, for blacks to celebrate their emancipation by president lincoln. my father was lifelong republican and identifies himself with abraham lincoln.
and so he was quite a social activist mitchell mother was school teacher. and because of my father's activism to try getting the vote for blacks, improving the economy, the retaliation from the white community was my mother never got a job teaching school in early county. >> i remember, yeah. >> so, in that environment, fortunately for my brother, who is a year and a half older -- my brother -- we were sent back first savannah to live with relatives for a year, to attend school in savannah because schools in rural georgia for blacks were not very good. we that the hand me towns. books from the white school. when they got new books, we got their books. they that a band. the black school did not have a band nor instruments. so my father was really someone who worked to address that, and because he was serving the black community, the whites couldn't bother him.
my mother -- in the 20 years they lived from from 1937 to 1957, taught in schools in other counties around there, and interestingly enough, as i was mentioning earlier, she taught in some schools that were built by julius rosen waled. for those who have seen the movie, rosen walled, some of those school mist mother taught in. >> i was stimulated by the one black dr. in georgia, dr. griffin. >> you met him when your were five. >> right. >> at that point you made a decision you were going to be a -- because he was so miraculous, that magic happened. he could cure people. >> yes. >> and i didn't want to cut you off but my first question was about the three american in your life. it's freezing.
if i'm shaking, realize, i'm -- aapologize. i just -- because i don't want you to jump ahead because i want to make sure that we talk about this. the three men that seem to be most influential in your life, were your father. >> yes. >> who was this amazing activist. >> right. >> this doctor, who you met at five. i want to know if you saw him again? was he somebody that you checked in with over time? and said -- told him about your interest in medicine, and then the third was benjamin hayes -- mayes, the dean ofhouse -- >> the president -- who also was influential in your life. so these three men, aim right, they're the three pillars of the -- i mean, they're -- obviously your mother was influential, too, and women in your lives but these were the three men that helped to guide
you in a time -- it was difficult time to decide to be a doctor. >> right. >> to decide to move as you did, so far ahead and a time of segregation and in this town,, too. so the example was your father in many ways because regardless what the environment was, you moved forward. >> oh, yes. the statement that my father and mother gave to me at that time was that this is not the right system. that we are going to do everything we can to really change it, and we expect you to do the same. and they -- there were no excused. we were expected to excel in school. we were taught to teach -- to treat our elders with respect. so many things we learned from our parents, and dr. griffin was
someone, as i mentioned, because he had magical powers, i wanted to be like him. wassed? science and loved birds and tree and nature and all that about he was the per personification of someone who was the expression of learning and service to the community, because that was something my father and mother were all about. >> sure. >> so that was the influence. and then when i went on to morehouse college, -- me as, the president, per soon identified all of -- personified all of those things and i and the other students at the college wanted to be like dr. mayes. he had great integrity, sought-after speak, always traveling but spoke to the students every tuesday morning, and he would bring in other speakers to serve as role models.
the message that he was giving us was also you can beat the system. you must change the system. you -- this is an evil system. we need to do it by democratic process. the protests, bringing out complaints to the public, et cetera. we were, as students, expected to do that, and the most famous graduate is martin luther king, jr., who finished six years prior to the time i finished. so they had a very important -- >> did you feel that you needed to make change or that you're working within a system to get what you needed to come out with in order to make change? was it that you were working towards becoming a doctor so you could implement change, or did you feel along the way you were fighting every step of the way
to make change and to get what you wanted, to be a physician? >> yes. well, it was really both. -- dr. mays in his weekly addresses to the students would say things like this. whatever you choose to do in life, you should do it so well that no man living, no man dead, and no man yet to be could do it better. if you commit yourself to that, when they're looking for someone in your field, whether it's engineering or physics or medicine or business or literature, you are so well accomplished in your field, they will have to consider you. you may not get the job, but it should not be because you're not prepared. so what he was telling us is be prepared for the opportunity so that you can make the change. so he was saying, the way you fight the system is excelling.
>> when you got to be you, and you -- where you went to medical school and you were one of 76 -- the only black man out of 76 white students. >> yes. >> and you were also the first time you were in a nonsegregated environment. you had grown up in the south. how was that? talk to just what -- and you became class president and you -- you really did excel. you listened to mays' words. >> right. >> i'm wondering how it was? did you feel overwhelmed? how were you treated? how did you feel -- did it get in the way? obviously not because you graduated one of the top three in your class, right? aim right. >> that's right. >> but i'm wondering, did it get in the way? how was it? this was -- >> sure. well, for me, this was really a great period of suspense and
trepidation because i'd doon well at morehouse, but as you noted, at almost 21, living now for the first 9/11 a nonsegregated society, and being the only black in my class, i had these questions. how aim going to do? am i going to do well? will i meet my parents' expectations? will i meet my own expectations? will i meet morehouse's expectations and because i was the only black, i felt i was representing the black community. >> i can imagine. >> so if i don't do well i'll let arch down. >> sure. >> so that was -- that kind of experience. and topping that was the fact that most of my classmates had never heard of morehouse. they were from middleberry, harvard, princeton, am hurt, and et cetera, and they all finished at the top of their classes.
so to make a long -- the annot a my exam wag was three weeks later and i did well and i relax sodas far as academic challenges i did well. secondly, my classmates were really very welcoming. i didn't get the hostility i feared i might get or being ignored or marginalized; so, it's really -- was a very positive experience for me and with the faculty. so my experience in medical school, compared with what i wondered what would happen, was a very positive experience. >> what about boston at that sometime. >> yes. boston was mixed. by and large, going to boston -- i had read about paul revere and his ride some lexington and the concord battles and the boston tea party and also crispus attus was the first black to die in the revolutionary war.
so i went to see the memorial for hem on the boston common. so i soaked up the hoyt -- the history of boston, so very positive. so my experience in boston really was very positive, but later in the late '50s -- the year i entered medical school was the year brown versus board of occasion, the supreme court decision, and so as this was implemented around the country, problems of not only in the south but in the north as well. and boston was one of those areas. so, my experience in boston was somewhat different from blacks who went to boston in the late '50s. they found with the political shenanigans of hicks -- i still remember him from south boston, running to be mayor, became aer hostile community. by that time i had really formed my friendships and relationships in boston with my classmates and with faculty and others, that i really found myself sometimes
explaining to black youngsters who were coming to boston in the late '50s, this place isn't really the representation you get from the busing controversy, et cetera. >> you're getting elsewhere. >> so boston really did undergo a change in its environment between the mid-'50s, when i entered, and the late '50s, when the busing controversy started. >> so interesting. what about your relationship with andrew young? did that beginning with -- when did you meet. you have similar histories. >> yes. >> you're quite -- you're four years eye part, three years apart. >> right. my relationship with andy young didn't begin nil went back to atlanta in 1975, when he was congressman from georgia, and he was the congressman that morehouse college and the medical school was located in. so he took me to washington to introduce me to members of congress to work to get federal
funding for the medical schools. >> that was the first time you met. that's interesting. and tell me -- i mean, because you were the founding dean of the morehouse medical school, i was asking you back stage if this could be -- our down the hall, asking you about when you created medical school, what was the philosophy behind it? and how you raised funds with that philosophy and how you got a lot of people to back this medical school, which -- during the time that it came to pass and everything, it is an interesting story so if you can talk to that. >> i would say this. at the time that morehouse school of medicine was founded there were 80 medical schools in the country. there will two that were predominantly african-american. howard and washington, dc ask
opened in 1868 and the hari medical college in nashville, opened in 1881. always has been a shortage of black physicians and other minority physicians in the country. there still is today. so, the rationale for the development of the morehouse school of medicine was as follows. first of all, as a country we had a shortage of physicians. congress passed legislation in the late '50s and '60s to stimulate the development of more medical schools there were 80 medical school inside 1950. we added 47 medical schools to those by 1981, so there was massive period of expansion of medical education between 1956 and 1981. morehouse school of medicine came along during that time, but there's also the civil rights movement that started in the mid-50s. so, the rationale for developing the morehouse school of medicine
was to work to train more black and other minority physicians. so the development of morehouse school of medicine was influenced by the two major events, expansion of medical education in general, and the civil rights movement really showing in detail the many deficiencies in terms of the lives of blacks, including having enough doctors and including having minority doctors as well. so that is how that came about. by 197 -- early 1970s a i was prefer of medicine at boston university and awas a research hematologist and thought i found my niche in medicine because i had loved hematology, loved the research, loved taking care of patients with the blood diseases, et cetera. but morehouse college, my alma mater, decided they wanted to start a medical school to address the shortage of black physicians.
so i serve oned as a viery committee of the college and was recruited to head that effort. that's when i met andy young. this was supported by the black physicians and the white physicians as well and that was bus the civil rights activities of the '50s, '6's,'7's,had schoop in stark detail the situation at that time faced so many blacks and other minorities. so we that the support of the state chapter of the american medical association in georgia, as well also the state capital of the national medical association in georgia. so, a lot of support from the business community and the philanthropic community as well. so that enabled to us start what was in the third black medical school in the country. >> this then began the -- your introduction to politics. didn't you ask ronald reagan to,
i guess, cult the ribbon or whatever it is? >> yes. >> open the doors to be at the ceremony. >> yes. >> and it was the vice president, george bush, who came. right? and then he asked you to go on a delegation to africa. am i right? >> right. >> and then -- you were interested -- you became friendly with the bushes at that point, and barbara bush is interested in education and reading and all of that, and then slowly -- then when he became president and trying to move on to the -- >> right. >> -- you then became involved in the political side of medicine. >> right. >> thank you talk -- because you were really instrumental in making sure that -- the first woman president or head of nih was under your -- >> yes. >> -- command, and then also the surgeon genoas the first latino woman.
you were -- when you took over this -- talk about meeting the bushes and then this next stage of your life. >> yes, right. well, what happened was this. we start with our first class at morehouse school of medicine in 1978, in facilities on the campus of morehouse college. the first building we constructed for the medical school was dedicated in july of 1982, when vice president george h.w. bush was the speaker. he came and was scheduled to stay only a few minutes for a reception afterwards but stayed more than an hour help was enjoying himself. then andy young, john lewis, ed macen tire, the black mayor of the city, and all were there getting pictures taken with this republican vice president. so that was a great event. then he left, and two weeks
later, he called and asked if i would go with him on a trip he was planning to substar sahara -- africa. i said what would my role be? he said, to be honest with you, we don't have an andy young in our administration, and i don't feel i can go to africa without a prominent african-american any delegation so you would do me favor and do the country a service of you would be willing to do it. so i appreciated his honesty and went. on that trip was barbara bush. barbara was speaking to groups in zaire, zimbabwe, zambia, literacy groups. on the way back, after two weeks visiting eight countries, i spoke to barbara on the plane and said we're in the same business, different branches. you're in literacy education, anytime medical education. we are a new school and need to have someone like you on our
board. would you be willing to consider it? so she accepted. the came on our board in john after '83. then my wife and i were constantly being invited to things at the vice president's home. so with got to know them very well. one motor vehicle -- one of my trustees wanted to be secretary and i was pushing him because i thought why be a great sect, but when bush was elected, rather than him taking my trustee, he asked me to serve. so that's how that happened. when he asked me to serve, i said, well, now, there are things i really would want to have happen, and i'd like know how you feel about this. we need to have more minority inside positions of authority. we need to have more women. he said, lou, that great itch support you. so when i became secretary, i pushed very hard, and as you mentioned, bernadine heely, the first woman head of nih and the first black to head social
security, gwen king, and to increase diversity, as well as programs to benefit the black community. he was very supportive of that. one other thing that most people don't know. the bush family has been involved with the united negro college fund since the beginning, in 1946. george h.w. bush's mother was one of the first directors, has been a member of the bush family on the board continue obviously since that time. so he convinced me, he is supportive of education and diversity. so it was pleasure and honor to serve if women. >> i also mentioned when we were talking, just that i wanted to talk about the current state of things. since you have lived in a segregated society, you were in boston in the late '50s when things were not so easy but you were in until school and they were easier. there seems to me to be a way
with gender issues, feminism, and with race issues, that is -- reminds me of 1968. there's an interest with "black lives matter," in what's really happening, and their seems to be a swelling of political and -- political activity. people are protesting. people are angry. people want to talk about it. and i'm wondering how you see this and -- because you have seen for years you have seen this go up and down, seen this expansion of various things, and will you speak to what you think is really happening now, and why now? >> right. well, good question. let me say one thing, too, as part of the framework. when i finished boston university school of medicine i was the first black intern at
new york hospital cornell medical center, 1958. not so many years ago. but the changes that occurred in the'6 sod and '7s so were very encouraging with the leadership of martin luther king, jr. and the other civil rights leaders. attended the march on washington. et cetera. so, i and -- like into many other african-americans, very encouraged by all of the progress that has been made. put what has happened now really is somewhat surprising and a little discouraging because it shows that the progress is so fragile that it's really -- on thin ice, and what has happened now is not only surprising but disappointing, when we have people being questioned that if you're muslim, you're not eligible to be president. all you have to do, substitute the word black for muslim. that's 20, 30 years ago, that
would have been the same. so, we should be better than that as a country. that is, all of us are immigrants. the only true native americans are the american indians. and to have people who forebearers, one or two generallations ago were immigrants, now speakening anti-immigrant and also the racial tones are here. very, very discouraging and disappointing. but i -- i think most minorities, not only african-americans but latinos, we're not going to accept that. we have a country that is built on the premise that all men are created equal. that there is strength in our diversity. that everybody has michigan to contribute. the culture of this country has been enriched by minority populations here. so this is a phase that is unfortunately, shows we haven't made as much progress as we
thought, that progress is maybe just a quarter inch deep, it may be a mile wide. so we need to work on that. people need to know that being different doesn't mean you're an automatic threat. the threat for me when i was growing up was the klan. the klan was lynching people when i was a child. those were the demons. so when you begin to exclude people and judge people as a class, i think that's a serious error and so we need to work to address that. i think the movement, "black lives matter," is a reaction to that. i think that it is not as focused as the civil rights movement. it's more of a general protest but i think it really is an expression from the black community that we are americans, too much health what misfather was doing back in blakely, in the 30s, with this emancipation day celebration. so we need to learn we can benefit from different cultures, from the different life
experience that people have had, and be a better and richer country because of it. the economic situation we have had and the fact we have had a congress that really has not been very active, that added to the frustration. so i think a lot of people are not being rational as they look at this. they're willing to really listen to slogans that have absolutely no depth no meaning to them. but i'm confident we'll get beyond this, but i, as an american, am going to do everything i took counter that, and i'm sure a lot of other people will also. >> i think you're -- i wanted to hear what you had to say about that because you have had much more history going through all of that, and certainly myself and probably most of the people in this audience. i wanted to ask just two very quick questions, which are very light, coming off of that. when you wrote a memoir, which you'll buy behind me after this
is over -- were there memoirs that you loved? were there certain memoirs that made you want to write a memoir or did you feel it was time write your story? >> well, a little of both. i really wanted to write this because the experienced i've indiana my life have taken me from the dark years of terror, from the klan and from lynchings and segregation to what i felt we have come to as a society. when i started, this is four years ago that we started -- this was the environment. and so i felt that my story, you talk to any african-american my age you get a similar story. i can tell you of many african-americans who have accomplished in business or medicine or physics or being astronauts, et cetera, the tuskegee airmen is a great example.
blacks in the in world war ii were not thought to be bright enough to fly planes. that had a black squadron that had a tremendous hoyt in protecting our bombers over europe and ate. so what we have seen is an underring that while we're different in many ways, those differences are minor. that we all have a lot to contribute. so, in that spirit that i wanted to tell my story because while i started off in difficult circumstances, i really was able to accomplish significant things, not only because of hard work but also because of the support of a lot of people. not only in the black community but also in the white community as well. so, all of those things came together, that enabled me to do the things i have done, and so that is what i wanted to do. >> it is awe-inspiring, i have to say. a book worth reading for many ropes, but you look at your life and what you have done is
incredibly impressive. want to ask you, because we're in the library, and it's only appropriate in a library to ask, or you could ask it elsewhere but i have to ask the poock question. there is something you have read recently or its there a book, a classic -- i'll ask it broader than usual -- that you go back to time and time again, or something you read recently that you love that you can tell our audience about briefly? >> i would say -- two books quickly. one was written by benjamin mays, president of morehouse college, the title was "born to rebel." you look at his life story, even more dramatic. his parents were freed slaves. he was taught to read at age eight by his older sister. he went to bates college and was the only black in this class and was val valedictorian of his
class. that was one role model. the other book was written by my friend joe califano. the tragedy and triumphs of lyndon johnson. great book and the cover -- covered my life experiences, too what if happened with kennedy's assassination -- president kennedy's assassination and how lyndon johnson was able to use that period to push through a lot of legislation, not only for health care, medicare, medicaid, but education, et cetera. so that is a fascinating story of how a master politician was able to use the system to accomplish a hell of at a lot of thing inside contrast to today's congress. >> he was persuasive character. >> that's right. and he used every trick he knew to make changes. >> we actually have a popup exhibit for robert careo here this, power broker stuff.
that's an incredible -- i guess it's a . . . . -- four. there are four. in the making now. thank you for keeping me straight here. i want to thank you. it's too brief. there's too much to discuss but i'm glad we got this 30 minutes to talk, and i want to go ask the audience and see if there are any questions here for dr. sullivan. i'm sure he would love to answer them. >> thank you. it was great. a couple months ago, anthony -- [inaudible] -- made a comment about affirmative action and how
already -- [inaudible] -- college graduate -- shouldn't have been at my school, i get there because i'm black? i stopped and thought, it's not true. then i thought about all these young people of color applying to colleges and i was wondering, hopefully their reaction was not -- was to ignore him but wondering what you thought of that comment and how you feel about affirmative action. >> i disagree with that comment. find immigrant condescending because from my perspective, affirmative action is a technique to try to right many of the wrongs that occurred from slavery, in the period of segregation, et cetera, where whites got an advantage because blacks were not allowed to compete. so, the residue of that
restraint is still with us today. so that if you are white, and you were a slave opener, -- slae owner and you became wealthy because of the labor of the slaves and were able to pass that on to your family in subsequent generations, that gave them ad aned a sang. so from my perspective affirmative action is a way to try to correct that injustice. and i know that this is always a controversial topic, but i think that many people have benefited. this is trying to correct a historical wrong, that many people who were admitted to educational institutions because of affirmative action, and who did well, justice sotomayor is one person. she has done well. and in contrast to perhaps justice thomas, who has been very critical of affirmative action, she did well and the
fact is she got into princeton because of affirmative action and then did well subsequently. so that is my response. within the medical research arena, for example, even today, study published in the journal of science in 2011, showed that black applicants for nih grands were -- when one cross for level of education, years of experience and all the other variables, still has half the success rate in getting an nih grant to do research as whites because of unconscious bias in the system. so, that is something we need to address. so it's that kind of thing that still is with us, but often times people in the system are not aware of the bias that does exist. so, we still have a lot to do too work on this.
>> i would like to know whether in the new approach being done by science in terms of the fact that there is only one race, and that race was started in africa. you being a doctor, when are we going to tell all these white people, blonde people, yellow people, whatever, that they are black but just discolored? you know. they were originally black and because of the fact that they moved to different environments, they have different eating habits and different food, and different climates, that's why
they change their color. and the only way to finish with the racism is to let them know that they month -- they belong to the same race where we come from. >> right. >> what is your thought about that. >> i think basically what you're saying is that it's not that we know we have dissected the human genome and find that 99 parts of our genes are similar. it's the one percent where there are differences. so from the standpoint of the enormity of the similarities, indeed many scientists saying we're just one race, minor differences, just like in a family you'll have some people whoa may by taller than others, et cetera so there's that variation so in a sense, race in many ways is a social construct, but the life experiences that minorities have had, say, in this country, shows that some of those things that really existed
before have long-lasting effects. so people make assumptions because of that, that this is because of biological differences rather than sociological differences, similar to the fact that children who come from families where they're college graduates, those children are much more likely to be college graduates than their peers town the street where the parents may not be college graduated. so there's a lot of social factors here that address this. so, indeed, might say there's one race but the important thing for me is to get beyond that, because frankly, when i was in medical school, by the end of my second month i forth got i was black because i was treated the same way by my classmates. so for the rest of my years in medical school i was lou sullivan. there was my classmate, barry manual, who took me to the mother's home and i at matza
ball soup for the first time. so the point is, the differences that we have had in life experiences dish learned a hell of a lot from that. that was quite an interesting experience. so, i think that what we are working on is trying to show that everyone given an opportunity can make a real contribution to society. i was lucky the that i had those opportunities, and i had the support that i needed, but i had many friends and classmates who didn't have the support who were just as bright, if not brighter, but didn't do well because they didn't have that special support. that the thing we need to do, see that all of our young people get the opportunities to develop their talents and get the support and encouragement. it will be a richer, better society if we succeed in that. >> thank you. so my question is piggy backing on what was just said in our
political environment now there's this us versus. the mentality and neither side, if you can say side, really talk to each other. democrats, republicans so on. and so it sounds like your father a was a human activist and seeing injustice and wanted to do something about it. seems like your live is very similar for medicine. what do you say to people now who say i want to move beyond this us and them barrier good bring people together specialliment? what is a man or woman's responsibility to the people around them and society. >> yes. good question. and frankly, it's a life long experience. first of all, i say we need to be active politically. vote them out of office if they don't do their job. and indeed, don't tolerate someone making a disparaging comment about someone because of their race or religion or their
gender, et cetera. so, we can't leave it to our elected officials. so that's what i tell everyone. i get active and i vote. i also provide financial support to the people i want to see elected for office because they represent me, and i am upset, like other people, that congress has really more playing political games rather than working to get things accomplished. my position is, we elect officials to solve problems, and to get things done, not to take their time taking political pot shots at each other, because the system now where you are considered to be a traitor if you talk to somebody in the other party, that's foolish. once the election is over, it's time to govern. so that's the position i and it used to be that way. the '50s and 60s the republicans and democrats would
have a cocktail at the end of the day. wasn't considered you were being disloyal if you talked to somebody in the other party. underneath all of this, all of us are americans. all of us really have a country that has tremendous potential. the precepts that are in the statements of our founding fathers are great. so happened they were for white men in those years, but we have expanded them to be everybody, and including women. so, we really -- i think what animates me and so many people is, i believe in those precepts. i want our society to live up to them. i am will tolling do the hard work to see they're implemented but i want to be treated fairly . . children can contribute, et cetera. if we do that, we'll be so much better, fantastic, as a country. so i think that's we all want. so the people who are the hate
-- hate mongers we should say that's not who we represent and i'm not going to vote for you because you don't represent me when you make those kind of statements. flash. [applause] >> thank you. behind my is he book store and dr. sullivan will be signing over there so please get his terrific back. thank you very much. see you next book for "books at noon." >> thank you. >> when i tune into on the weekends its authors sharing new releases. >> watching the nonfiction
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