The Tuskegee Hospital


W.E.B. Du Bois


January 1, 1923

We have strong reasons for believing that the following are the actual facts concerning the Tuskegee Hospital:

  1. The Harding administration, without consultation with Negro leaders, made Dr. R.R. Moton a sort of referee for 12 million Negroes as to the personnel of the hospital and the Veterans’ Bureau promised him categorically that he would be consulted before anybody was appointed superintendent of the hospital.
  2. Colonel Robert H. Stanley, a white man, was made superintendent of the hospital and arrived at Tuskegee two days before Dr. Moton was notified.
  3. Plans were made to open the hospital April first with a full white staff of white doctors and white nurses with colored nurse-maids for each white nurse, in order to save them from contact with colored patients!
  4. On February 14th Dr. Moton wrote President Harding and told him that if Negro physicians and nurses were debarred from service in the hospital without at least being given a chance to qualify under the Civil Service rules it would bring justifiable criticism upon him and upon the Harding administration.
  5. Dr. Moton wrote to the Superintendent of the hospital asking that the opening of the hospital be delayed. The Superintendent replied that there could be no mixture of races in the staff.
  6. Strong pressure was put upon Dr. Moton to make him change his position and the Governor of Alabama, together with General R.E. Steiner, telegraphed the President protesting against a mixed staff and demanding a full white staff. Steiner is the head of the American Legion in Alabama and he is the one who in New Orleans fought to keep Negro ex-service men from membership in the Legion; consequently no Negro ex-service men in Alabama can have any affiliation whatsoever with the American Legion. Meantime Dr. Moton was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and others and Tuskegee school had to place armed guards at his home.
  7. On February 23 President Harding called Dr. Moton into conference after which the President issued an executive order calling for a special examination for Negro applicants for places on the hospital staff.
  8. The only interest of white people in Alabama in this hospital is economic and racial. They want to draw the government salaries and they do not want any Negro officials in Alabama whom the state cannot dominate. To illustrate this: the contract for burying soldiers was given to a white undertaker from Greenville, South Carolina, before the bids of local colored undertakers had a chance even to be submitted.
  9. The Civil Service Commission is delaying unnecessarily and unreasonably in arranging for examinations and qualifying colored physicians and without doubt are going to cheat in every possible way.

In commenting on all this we can simply gasp. Is it not inconceivable? Human hatred, meanness and cupidity gone stark mad! Separating races in hospitals and graveyards and fighting to put white men over a Negro hospital! Giving nurses black maids to do the work while the white “ladies” eat with the internes, dance at the balls and flirt with the doctors and black men die! Lying, postponing, deceiving, threatening to keep out black doctors and nurses. What will be the result? What can be the result? What decent Negro physician or devoted black nurse will dare go to this nest of barbarism?

We honor Moton for his present stand and sympathize with him in his undoubted danger and humiliation. But this leads us to condemn him all the more sharply and unsparingly for the last part which he has played in inter-racial politics.

Here was a great government duty to take care of black soldiers wounded in soul and body by their awful experience in the Great War. They ought to have been cared for without discrimination in the same hospitals and under the same circumstances as white soldiers. But even if this were impossible because of race hatred, certainly the last place on God’s green earth to put a segregated Negro hospital was in the lynching belt of mob-ridden Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and their ilk.

It occurred to some of our bright Northern white philanthropists and politicians that the shunting of this institution to Tuskegee was exactly the thing; and the tool they found ready to their hand to carry this out was Dr. R.R. Moton.

“Chickens come home to roost.” Tuskegee is no place for such a hospital. It is not and cannot be an integral part of the school, which the public opinion of the world of the memory of Booker T. Washington partially protects from Alabama mobs. Outside of such schools as Tuskegee and the larger cities, there is no protection in central Alabama for a decent Negro pig-pen, much less for an institution to restore the life and health of those very black servants of the nation, whom Alabama, led by the cowardly Steiner, has kicked out of the American Legion.

Any Negro in such a hospital, under Southern white men and women of the type who are now fighting like beasts to control it, would be a subject of torture and murder rather than of restoration of health. The only decent method would have been to have placed the institution in the law-abiding North where it belongs; and even now, despite the fact that these millions of dollars of brick and equipment have been sunk into the morass of the black belt, the best way out of the mess would be to tear the hospital down and rebuild it within the confines of civilization.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1923. “The Tuskegee Hospital.” The Crisis 26 (3): 106–7.