That year, the A.M.A. commissioned a well-known educator, Abraham Flexner, to visit and evaluate each North American medical school. His 1910 report, “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” raised a further hurdle for black doctors: it recommended that all but two black medical schools — Howard and Meharry — be closed. Unable to attract financing, the others did close, and the number of black physicians predictably fell.
By 1938, the situation had grown so dire that Dr. Louis T. Wright of Harlem Hospital declared, “The A.M.A. has demonstrated as much interest in the health of the Negro as Hitler has in the health of the Jew.”
In 1963, when Dr. Cobb became president of the N.M.A., the United States had 5,000 black doctors out of 227,027 total. Although A.M.A. membership was often important to hospital practice, specialty training and professional achievement, many chapters and “constituent societies” — medical groups that were the gatekeepers to the larger organization — were closed to blacks.
And the A.M.A. repeatedly refused to force its constituent societies to admit blacks. In 1952, Dr. Martha Mendell, a white member of the Physicians Forum, a multiracial doctors group in New York, argued: “The claim of the A.M.A. that it is powerless to correct this practice because of the ‘autonomy’ of its component societies is an evasion of its responsibility. Surely, if the Southern medical societies decided to admit chiropractors to membership, the A.M.A. would quickly find the means of redefining this autonomy.”