ATLANTA - During his graduation from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in June 1959, Marion Gerald Hood became bothered by the presentation of an honorary degree.
“At my graduation, they gave a professor or someone from Emory [University] an honorary degree,” Hood says. “I kind of felt funny watching him come to my institution or my college and get a degree and I was not able to attend his school at all.”
The 80-year-old Georgia native, who had just earned a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry, wanted to challenge the status quo that kept blacks from attending many white institutions. So, on July 30, 1959, Hood applied to Emory University’s School of Medicine.
Six days after he submitted his application, Hood received a response. The letter says, in part, “I am sorry I must inform you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race.”
The letter, signed by the director of admissions, also noted a $5 application fee would be refunded.
Hood persevered, ultimately graduating from Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine. He has been practicing for more than 50 years.
Dr. Hood served his country during the Vietnam War by treating wounded soldiers.
Now semi-retired, Dr. Hood works part-time at Your Town Health. The nonprofit treats patients no matter their ability to pay.
As for Emory University, it has grown in the last six decades.
In a statement attributed to David B. Sandor, senior vice president of communications and public affairs, Emory University said:
“Dr. Marion Hood’s story is a somber reminder of how the discriminatory policies of that time severely limited educational opportunities for generations of talented young men and women. The fact that Dr. Hood persevered, obtained a medical degree, and has served his community for more than 50 years is but one example of what society would have lost had he not been able to pursue an education. Today, 23 percent of Emory School of Medicine’s entering first-year students this fall are black, the highest in the school’s history. As a whole, Emory is diverse, with black students constituting 10 percent and minority students overall representing 32% of the student body.”
FOX 5’s Kerry Charles spoke exclusively with Dr. Hood about his interest in becoming a doctor, the 1959 letter, and Emory University’s growth when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“It's a shame it took 60 years, but it's moving in the right direction there are still barriers,” says Dr. Hood. “I don't hold them personally responsible for what happened to me. They were just following the rule of the good ol' South in those days.”
Watch the embedded videos above to learn more about Dr. Hood and hear his advice for people who encounter adversity.