Emory offers apology to black medical school applicant 62 years after he was rejected
“I am sorry I must write you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race. I regret that we cannot help you.” The date was August 5, 1959, and the occasion was a young Marion Hood waiting to hear back from Emory University, a week after applying to its medical school. These were the stunning words offered in a rejection letter, along with his $5.00 application fee, that was returned to Hood from then admissions director L.L. Clegg.
A young Hood did not allow the rejection to thwart his plans to become a doctor. He took his returned application fee of $5.00 and studied medicine at Loyola University in Chicago. Hood returned to Atlanta to establish himself as a respected gynecologist and obstetrician. More than six decades after sending that rejection letter, Emory’s School of Medicine apologized for their transgressions as they celebrated their Juneteenth program. During the ceremony at Emory, University President Gregory L. Fenves acknowledged that Hood was rejected for “no other reason that the fact that he was Black,” and that the rejection letter sent to Hood, “vividly shows the systematic injustice of that time and the legacy that Emory is still reckoning with. Throughout American history and Emory history, Dr. Hood and so many other talented students, were denied access to achieve their dreams to realize their potential,” Fenves said. Emory presented Hood with a new letter which contained the act of contrition which said:
“On behalf of Emory University School of Medicine, I apologize for the letter you received in 1959 in which you were denied consideration for admission, due to your race. We are deeply sorry this happened and regret that it took Emory more than 60 year to offer you our sincere apologies.”
The 83-year-old Hood said he never dwelled on the rejection, but that 1959 letter from Emory hangs in a frame in his home as a reminder. “The Emory deal in itself was good…to bring some closure,” Hood said. “Discrimination to me was an everyday part of life.”
During the program, years of pent-up emotions revealed itself as Hood talked about his experience. Hood shared an unpleasant incident early in his career when he was treating a patient who elected to spit in his face. The patient was stunned that Hood continued to provide him care an hour later. Hood said he told the patient that as a doctor, he was obligated and wanted to take care of people, even ones he did not really like.
Hood had already applied to Howard University and the Meharry School of Medicine, but immediately sent an application to Emory after a professor from that university was awarded an honorary degree from Clark College during Hood’s graduation ceremony. “I thought, he can come to my school and get an honorary degree and I can’t put my foot on his campus,” Hood said. After college, Hood started a Master of Biochemistry at Howard and was later accepted to Loyola medical school in 1961. The state of Georgia paid for part of his tuition for an out of state medical school because he was not allowed to attend a medical school in Georgia at the time because he was black. Hood says he survived by earning money from cleaning a white fraternity house and free meals provided to him by the Black cooks of the fraternity house.
As he told his story decades later, the pain of the memories echoed in his voice. Hood’s advice to young people was emphatic, “You have to do it. I say to students, you can’t be disrespectful, and if you do that, everything will work its way out,” Hood said. He closed with saying, “Everything worked its way out. There was no reason to dwell on it. I did not expect to get into Emory.”
Hood graduated in 1966, opened an Atlanta practice in 1974 and delivered more than 7,000 babies before he retired in 2008. “Life is full of hurdles, but if there is a hurdle, there must be a way to get around or over it,” Hood said.
After rejecting Hood, Emory desegregated three years later. The university admitted its first Black medical student, Hamilton E. Holmes, in 1963 after Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault integrated the University of Georgia two years earlier in 1961.
Today, about 16% of Emory’s medical students are Black, said the school’s dean.