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Issue 10 - July2004

Challenges and progress of black chiropractors

Achieving diversity in the healthcare industry was and is a challenge for all professions. Both the medical profession and chiropractic have fallen short of having a representative number of minorities within professional ranks.

In 1980 only 2.6 percent of physicians and 2 percent of medical school faculty in the country were African-American. (1) In 1994 only 1 percent of chiropractors were African-American.(2)

In contrast, African-Americans comprised 11.8 percent of the total U.S. population in 1980, 12.3 percent of the U.S. population in 1990 and 12.8 percent of the U.S. population in 2000.3 In general, minority medical doctors tend to provide healthcare to minority patients,4,5,6 and serve in urban and inner city communities where the number of unemployed, uninsured and underinsured persons is disproportionately high. (7,6)

Not much has been published about African-Americans in chiropractic. Bobby Westbrooks, DC, the founder of the American Black Chiropractic Association, published an article in 1982 that has served as the basis for nearly every publication that addresses African-Americans and the chiropractic profession.

Westbrooks reported that the low representation of African-Americans in the chiropractic profession was due, in part, to the barriers placed against their entrance into many chiropractic schools until the early 1950s.

The African-Americans’ struggle to enter the profession of chiropractic parallels the chiropractic profession’s struggle to gain acceptance by the population at large.

Denied entry at the Palmer School, most African-Americans who entered chiropractic studied in schools run by white practitioners in the North or in schools specifically designed to provide chiropractic instruction to African-Americans. Westbrooks said that correspondence schools provided anonymity for African-Americans to study chiropractic.

The discrimination against African-Americans by the majority of the chiropractic profession is well documented but was seldom discussed until the Westbrooks article of 1982.

It is ironic that while the chiropractic profession was fighting its battle of oppression with organized medicine, chiropractors were, in turn, an instrument of oppression for African-Americans who desired to enter their profession. The institutionalized discrimination against African-Americans is well documented in the schools’ bulletins, which generally printed the notation, “Negroes not accepted.”

In 1979 the National Association of Black Chiropractors and Commun-ity Development Volunteers filed a formal charge of racial discrimination against the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), chiropractic’s accrediting agency, and its member colleges. It charged that the CCE and it colleges failed to recruit African-American students, citing the low number of African-American students and faculty. The CCE was given a “clean bill of health” by the office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, but recom-mendations were made regarding statements in college catalogs, admissions forms, and similar items. (7)

In the ensuing 24 years since the National Association of Black Chiropractors filed its complaint against the chiropractic college accrediting agency, changes in chiropractic education are apparent. Many chiropractic college catalogs and Web-sites picture African-Americans. Several chiropractic colleges employ African-American faculty members and minority recruiters. And African-Americans have held positions as administrators, at several other colleges as well (8), including Jerry L. Hardee, EdD, president of Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic, in Spartanburg, S.C., and Gloria Niles, DC, academic dean of Palmer College of Chiropractic Florida.

Glenda Wiese, PhD, professor of special collections and archives at the David D. Palmer Health Sciences Library, Palmer College of Chiropractic, contributed this article.

1 Sullivan, L.W. The status of blacks in medicine: philosophical and ethical dilemmas for the 1980s. The New England Journal of Medicine 1983;309(13),807-808

2 Wiese, G.C. Beyond the “Jim Crow” experience: Blacks in chiropractic education. Chiropractic History 1994;14 (1): 14-20.

3 United States Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2001. (121st edition), Washington, DC., 2001.

4 Davis, J.A., Davidson, C.P. The study: preparing high school students for health careers. Journal of Medical Education 1982;57(7): 527-534.

5 Cohen, AC., Cantor, J.C., Barker, D.C., Hughes, R.G. Young physicians and the future of the medical profession. Health Affairs Winter 1990;138-148.

6 Moy, E., Bartman, B. Physician race and care of minority and medically indigent patients. JAMA May 1995;273(19):1515-1520

7 Chiropractic colleges of America receive clean bill of health by the federal government in civil rights investigations. The ACA Journal of Chiropractic. December 1980;17(12):11.

8 Black DC faces new challenges. The ACA Journal

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