ABP Tackled Racism in 1934

Bottom Line: Dr. deGrate Smith faced racism and discrimination to become the first Black pediatrician certified by the American Board of Pediatrics..
Above photo courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University Archives, Howard University, Washington DC.

Guest post by Dr. H. Stacy Nicholson

As your new Board of Directors Chair for the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), I am delighted and proud to share part of the ABP’s history with you during this Black History Month.

When the ABP was founded in 1933 as an organizational member of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the ABP was required to follow ABMS rules for board-certification, which included membership in the American Medical Association (AMA). 

Alonzo deGrate Smith, MD, an African American pediatrician from Washington, DC, was among the first group of physicians to be considered for certification. However, based on the existing ABMS rules about AMA membership, the ABP would have been forced to reject Dr. deGrate Smith’s application. He was not a member of the AMA because the AMA chapter in Washington did not allow African Americans to join. 

Dr. Borden VeederIn disagreement, the ABP’s first president, Borden Veeder, MD, fought to have the AMA membership requirement removed. He succeeded, and Dr. deGrate Smith became the first African American pediatrician (#20 of all pediatricians) certified by the ABP. The year was 1934. 

Although Dr. deGrate Smith’s experiences with racism did not end in 1934, both he and Dr. Veeder were ahead of their time. They managed whatever fear or discomfort came with opposing racism and, in so doing, gifted us, their ABP descendants, a history of which we can be proud.  

Today, the ABP is expanding our work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We do so with a spirit of humility, fully acknowledging that we are at the beginning of a long journey. In June, your Board of Directors released a statement denouncing racism as life-threatening and life-ending, and in December, we approved a new resolution of commitment and accountability (see below). You can read more details about the specific work that we are doing in our 2020 Annual Report, which will be available online next month.

As we press on for a more just future, I am grateful for the gifts of courage and determination handed to us by Drs. deGrate Smith and Veeder. Our eyes our clear, and our resolve is as strong as ever.

Be it resolved, the ABP Board of Directors is committed to and will hold itself and the ABP accountable for embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion into the internal and external work of the ABP and its Foundation.
December 2020

About the Author

Dr. Stacy Nicholson

H. Stacy Nicholson, MD, MPH, serves as the 2021 Chair of the ABP Board of Directors and the ABP Foundation Board of Directors. He has been a volunteer with the ABP since 2010, when he joined the Hematology-Oncology Subboard. He served as subboard chair in 2014-15 and joined the Board of Directors in 2015, where he previously served as secretary-treasurer in 2019 and chair-elect in 2020. Currently the President of Children’s Services and Chair of Pediatrics at Atrium Health Levine Children's based in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Nicholson is maintaining certification in both General Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.