Black History Month: Lucy Byard

I think sometimes we believe that the very nature of the healthcare industry, and the particular view of healthcare that we have here at ADU insulates us from the ills of society.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lucy Byard

Lucy Byard is a name not often remembered inside or outside of the Seventh-day Adventist Church - understandably so. She arrived at Washington Sanitarium and Hospital (an Adventist Hospital) on October 14, 1944 in critical condition.

Because of her condition, the hospital admitted her immediately. There was just one problem - she was Black and Washington Sanitarium did not admit Black people. Once they discovered her ethnicity, they removed her from the room they had given her and made her wait in the hallway in a robe. Hospital managers made arrangements to transfer Byard from the Maryland-based hospital to Freedman's Hospital, the Black hospital in Washington, DC. No one at Washington Sanitarium examined or treated her before they transferred her. They eventually transported Byard to Washington, DC not in an ambulance but in a car. Unfortunately, she died at Freedman's Hospital before doctors could treat her there. Lucy Byard died after being rejected from an Adventist hospital. On that day in 1944, healthcare workers decided to exemplify the worst that society has to offer. Byard's death incensed African-American Adventists in the Washington, DC area. As a result, African-Americans created an advocacy group and sought equality of treatment in the Adventist Church. In response the church created a half measure not requested by those who protested - a segregated church structure.1

Move the world forward.

I wish the Lucy Byard Incident had a more Hollywood ending. I wish some white knight at Washington Sanitarium rode in on his trusty steed to stand up to racism and save the day. I know this story makes us uncomfortable. However, it is important for the Lucy Byards of the world to be remembered and for their stories to be told, despite how much it hurts us to tell them, and to remember that we live in a world where these things can happen.

Black History Month is not only about celebrating the accomplishments and societal contributions of a particular group of people. It is also about the recognition that part of what makes those achievements so extraordinary is the pain and anguish overcome in order to make those accomplishments a reality.

Moreover, to remember Lucy Byard is to be fully cognizant of the fact that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Equality, justice, and fair treatment do not happen by accident and are not transferred through osmosis. It requires effort on our part to make the decision every day to do the right thing. Let us resolve to use this ministry to move the world forward.

1. Rock, Calvin B., Institutional Loyalty Versus Racial Freedom, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor , MI: 1984, 31-32.