Constructing the Past


The National Medical Association (NMA) was founded in 1895 after the American Medical Association denied a group of black physicians membership. Black physicians used this organization as a platform to launch a three-tiered approach to combating the tuberculosis epidemic: debunking popular beliefs of black biological inferiority, proactive education of the black community on proper hygiene and behavior, and lobbying to gain support from social reforms and campaigns by targeting white anxieties and morals.

The NMA identified the causes of high death rates among black populations from tuberculosis as environmental, economic and social conditions. They placed the primary responsibility of changing these conditions and improving health on black physicians rather than depending solely on white run social reforms and aid. In order to improve the conditions and health of blacks, the NMA encouraged black physicians to educate the black community about tuberculosis causes, prevention and treatment. As tuberculosis mortality rates in black communities held constant, the NMA realized they needed the support of established social reform movements to effectively combat the disease. Many Progressive Era social reform movements improved environmental and economic conditions for whites but often excluded black communities. Whites dominated the Anti-Tuberculosis Movement’s campaigns and usually excluded blacks from the aid they provided to tuberculosis patients. The NMA in turn played off of white anxieties concerning contamination and moral obligation in order to gain resources to improve black conditions. The NMA felt that black physicians’ held the responsibility to educate the public and gain support from previously racially exclusive social movements.