In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech, covered by the Associated Press, before the annual meeting of the American Medical Association convention. As the AP reported, he said: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane”.
Dr. King pointed out that hospitals in receipt of federal funds and bound by the recently passed Civil Rights Act still covertly or overtly discriminated against Blacks, particularly in the South. Officials at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) threatened to cut off aid to hospitals found guilty of practicing discrimination. A government survey of health and welfare services desegregation in the South had revealed wide-spread non-compliance with the law in federally supported programs. A survey sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that almost all Southern state hospitals remained segregated, with the exception of mental hospitals.
Over fifty years later, health care disparities by race continue. The Health Equity Tracker defines “health equity” as a status when all people, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status, geographic location, or other society constructs have fair and just access, opportunity, and resources to achieve their highest potential for health”.