Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped St. Louis’s Healthcare System (1937–1979)

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

Opening in 1937, St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital emerged as the nation's largest segregated African American hospital in the United States. The municipal teaching hospital provided much needed, yet segregated, care to the Black residents of St. Louis and the Midwest more generally. The prestigious teaching hospital gained a global reputation as a training ground for African American nurses, allied health professionals, and medical specialists who were excluded from other training opportunities in Jim Crow America. Yet the case of “Homer G.”—as it has come to be affectionately known by Black St. Louisans—is instructive as it tracked the much larger transition from segregated to post-segregated healthcare and medical education in the United States. While this larger history of exclusion is often told as a story of discontinuity, from the grassroots perspective of Homer G. Phillips Hospital, African Americans continued to fight for health equity amid the deeply embedded structural racial inequities persisting in post-segregated America.

This talk draws from Ezelle Sanford’s emerging book project, Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare, which situates the grassroots story of continued structural inequality amid the national transition from race-based to class-based healthcare over the 20th century. Centering the work, motivations, strategy, and pragmatism of African Americans, Segregated Medicine argues that the history of racial segregation, the transition to post-segregated care following the limited success of the “medical civil rights movement,” combined with the economic anxieties of the 1970s, laid the groundwork for today’s health disparities.

About the Speaker


Ezelle Sanford III headshot, outdoors on campus

Ezelle Sanford III

Ezelle Sanford III is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the program on race, science, and society in the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. There he researches the history and legacy of enslavement and its relationship to the institutional development of the Perelman School of Medicine, medical education, and the production of medical knowledge and practice. Ezelle earned his PhD in history and history of science from Princeton University in 2019. He specializes in the history of modern medicine and public health, African American history from emancipation to the present, and 20th-century United States history. In addition to his fellowship duties, he continues to work on the history and legacy of racial segregation in American medicine. He is beginning work on his book project, Segregated Medicine, an outgrowth of his dissertation research on St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the nation’s largest segregated hospital, which operated from 1937 to 1979. His work has been supported with fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Washington University in St. Louis, and Princeton University.

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, our speakers are exploring issues of gender, race, and colonialism in the history of the physical and biological sciences from the early modern period to the 21st century.