Light on the Hill, Volume II

Miller, Russell

1986

NEGOTIATIONS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT of a community health center were preceded at Mound Bayou, Mississippi, began early in 1966 and were preceded

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by a series of on-site visits and extended discussions with both the local citizenry and medical personnel in neighboring communities as well as with state medical officials. In March, President Wessell addressed a lengthy letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson detailing the proposal. The governor's reply was completely negative. He denied that any official in the state had supported the idea of establishing a health care center; averred that such services were not needed; and alleged that the "intervention" by an outside institution, especially one supported by the federal government, was completely unacceptable. Further communication with Tufts modified Governor Johnson's initial hostility, especially after assurance had been given that an advisory committee representing local white as well as black physicians would be created and that local physicians would serve as paid consultants rather than as assistants. The governor was also assured that the proposed health center would in no way be a "cover for civil rights activity." It was to be strictly an academic research and demonstration venture and in no way a political device for infiltrating Mississippi.

The idea of establishing the Mound Bayou project was presented to a rather unenthusiastic board of trustees by Robert Meserve, chairman of the board, who strongly endorsed the proposal; as a consequence the board unanimously approved it. Approval of the Southern site by OEO was required before any further steps could be taken, and months of delay followed before notice of it was received. One complication unforeseen by either Tufts or the OEO was the necessity in 1966 of meeting an immediate and critical financial crisis of the Taborian Hospital, one of two in Mound Bayou. (They had been merged into a single community hospital in 1968.) The Mississippi Hospital Commission had revoked the hospital's license because of its failure to make necessary repairs and because of its temporary inability to meet its current operating expenses. Tufts agreed to make available immediately $25,000 to meet the fiscal emergency because the bureaucratic wheels of OEO could not move expeditiously enough to meet the crisis.

Tufts also ran into serious legal complications. Governor Johnson refused the right of an out-of-state non-profit corporation to conduct any activities in the state. The only alternative was to form a non-profit trust, which did not require the governor's approval, and to "domesticate" the program by creating an organization within state boundaries. Five Tufts trustees served, beginning in 1967, on behalf of the "Tufts-Delta Health Center Trust of the Tufts Community Action Health Program," with a registered agent in the state

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capital. The charitable trust had the responsibility of making all commitments regarding construction, leases, and rental agreements. The in-state corporation, known as the Tufts-Delta Health Center, Inc., was formed in March 1969, with Hallowell designated as its president, and five Tufts trustees as directors.

Until a $900,000 building was constructed in 1968 to house the Health Center, limited medical service to local residents was begun in November 1967 in a small parsonage, and a few weeks later occupied rented quarters at the First Baptist Church and the local movie theater. Medical staff and their families were housed in quarters built for their use on nearby land acquired through OEO funding. A professional and technical staff of 44, 32 of whom were Blacks, had been assembled by the fall of 1968 and totalled 120 within the next three months, serving some 2,000 families. Health Associations had been organized in twelve different communities in the Northern part of the county, serving some 3,000 patients, and with representation in an organization known as the North Bolivar County Health Council.

Infant mortality, which had existed at an alarming rate before the coming of the health program, was dramatically reduced, but activities were by no means limited to direct health services. An environmental improvement unit provided adequate water supplies, drainage, and sanitary facilities for the first time, cleaned up garbage and trash dumps, and killed rats literally by the hundreds. The Tufts staff also assisted in organizing the Northern Bolivar County Farm Cooperative to increase food production. This was run entirely by its own Board of Directors, without direct Tufts involvement. There was, however, a negative element to be reckoned with.

Both Geiger and Gibson had begun to feel that the two community health programs operated ostensibly by Tufts were considered to be too much the pet projects of the two men, and that the connection with the university had been too marginal and too much neglected. This seemed to be particularly the case with Mound Bayou because of its distance from Tufts and from the medical school. Isolation from the mainstream of university affairs seemed to be painfully obvious to Geiger and Gibson, who made a series of recommendations to overcome the isolation which they felt existed. One was regular administrative review and visitation; another was the

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appointmentof a thoroughly interested Board of Visitors. Others were: seminars in community health at the medical school to share the knowledge and experience gained from the two programs; and a university visitor program to acquaint individuals first-hand with the working of each project. Geiger was especially aggrieved at the lack of publicity given to the two health programs. It was notably irksome to see similar programs modelled on those sponsored by Tufts given widespread attention, while references to Columbia Point and Mound Bayou were relegated to footnotes, if mentioned at all.

Within Mississippi itself there were problems that were serious and in some cases extremely difficult if not impossible to solve. By and large the general relationship between the natives of Mound Bayou and the Northerners was surprisingly positive, but both groups obviously had to make major adjustments. The arrival of whites in a previously all-black community meant considerable friction, and the Southern white power structure resented the intrusion of "foreigners" into their bailiwick. Relations between the Health Center and the black officials in the local community hospital were often strained. The latter considered the Health Center as an unwelcome and competitive intruder and resented the growing feeling of independence and power of the Blacks as a result of their experience in participating in the local Health Associations and the Health Planning Council organized in 1968.

Professional people from the urban North were unhappy about their comparative isolation, at the lack of intellectual or social life, the paucity of trained medical assistants, and inadequate laboratory and research facilities. And then there was the matter of priorities. Important as recognition of health needs was by the native population, their priorities were immediate and urgent: minimum food, clothing, shelter, and fuel. It was a matter of plain survival for the present rather than health improvement over the course of time. Educating the native population was a major challenge.

After Geiger's responsibilities were enlarged in 1969 to include overall supervision of both the Columbia Point and Mound Bayou projects, he turned the directorship of the Tufts-Delta Health Center over to Andrew B. James, an experienced black professional who had served as the head of its environmental health program. During the same year, Geiger complained bitterly to the dean of the medical school that it was giving neither adequate fiscal support to supplement the OEO grant nor exhibiting any real interest in the Mississippi project, considering it merely "an exotic venture." He was particularly resentful because the funds received by Tufts as indirect cost allowances were being added to general university resources instead of

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being ploughed back directly into the programs that had generated the cost allowances in the first place. Geiger threatened in the fall of 1969 to leave if nothing were done, to arrange another medical school affiliation, and to take the Delta Health Center grant with him. Gibson had already resigned to accept a position at Stanford University. This brought forth from President Hallowell the rueful comment about "Tufts' capacity for staffing the faculties of prestigious medical schools." Simultaneously, relations with the local community hospital and the Health Center became more and more unpleasant, and the Health Council demanded greater participation in policymaking. The Health Center was accused of accepting "dictation" from Boston which was allegedly withholding OEO funds earmarked for Mound Bayou. The Health Council voted in December 1970 to find a sponsor elsewhere because Tufts had neither the resources nor the will to fulfill the community's rising expectations.

Arrangements were made to have the sponsorship taken over by the the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook (Long Island), effective 1 July 1971. By coincidence, Geiger not only carried out his threat to leave, but resigned from Tufts at the same time to head a similar Health Science program at Stony Brook. After a transition period lasting several months, all activities of the Tufts-Delta Health Center were terminated as of May 1972, and the operation was turned over to the combined Delta Community Hospital and Health Center, Inc., which had been created in the meantime.

Only one piece of unfinished business remained in the 1970s. The trustee Executive Committee had approved in 1968 a request by Dean Maloney to take $10,000 out of the medical school's unrestricted funds to purchase ten acres of land in Mound Bayou on which permanent housing could be built and rented to the staff and their families. The original plan (never carried out) had been to recoup the investment by selling building lots and reserving a section on which a developer could construct a multiple family dwelling. A contract was even negotiated with the Designed Facilities Corporation to provide the structure, but a developer was never found and Tufts' ambitious plans were cut short.

 
 
Footnotes:

[] For a detailed history of the North Bolivar Farm Cooperative, see Herbert Black, People and Plows Against Hunger: Self-Help Experiment in a Rural Community (Boston: Marlborough House, 1975).

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  • Light on the Hill, the second volume of the history of Tufts University, was published in 1986, covering the years from 1952 to 1986. This doucument was created from the 1986 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume II.
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 Title Page
 Dedication
 Foreword
 Preface
1. Setting the Stage for the Second Century
2. Long-Range Planning
3. Bricks and Mortar 1952-1967
4. The End of Theological Education at Tufts
5. Ever-Widening Curricula for Liberal Arts and Engineering
6. Jackson College: A Search for Identity
7. Defining the Role of the College of Special Studies
8. The Arts and Sciences Faculty I
9. The Arts and Sciences Faculty II
10. The Central Library
11. The Changing Character of the Student Body
12. Fraternities and Sororities at Tufts: A Cyclical History
13. A Beehive of Activity: From Trustees to Students
14. From Wessell to Hallowell
15. The Hallowell Administration: Years of Trial and Tribulation
16. The Hallowell Administration: Continued Trial and Tribulation
17. Educational Ventures, Successful and Otherwise
18. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
19. Medical and Dental Education I
20. Medical and Dental Education II
21. Taking Stock of the University in the 1960s and 1970s
22. The Mayer Administration: A Preliminary View
23. The Mayer Administration: Consolidation and Expansion
 Epilogue