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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A biography: segregation in schools, an army regiment, and a medical school

Best offers a brief biography. He moved from a segregated black school in Lenoir County, North Carolina, graduating in 1936 and enrolling at the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. Drafted into the army in 1943, he fought with an all-black regiment in Italy, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Upon returning to North Carolina, he took a grant to attend a medical school that accepted African-American students, Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KAREN KRUSE THOMAS: I'm interviewing Dr. Andrew Best about the Old North State Medical Society and health care desegregation in North Carolina. Dr. Best, could you just start with your educational background, when you were born, and when you stared your practice?
I was born and reared in Lenoir County, about three miles northeast of Kinston. I went to the neighborhood school, which was segregated, until I finished the seventh grade. There was no high school in the county at that time for black folk, Negroes as we were known then, and I'm sure you've noticed the difference in the nomenclature. It was colored, it was Negro, and then it was black, and now it's Afro-American. There was a high school for so-called colored in Kinston, and I went to high school there. Of course, the high school in Kinston accepted Afro-American students, but they had to be responsible for getting there, as opposed to the white kids in the consolidated schools in the countyߞthey had buses. We black toddlers had to walk to school. It was about three and a half miles from my house to school. For those years I was in high school, my basic means of getting to school was walking. Sometimes there were neighbors who would recognize my sister and I walking to school, and they'd pick us up, or we'd hitch a ride. In the last two years, I had an older brother who had some trouble with his eyes, so he took a vacation from school after he finished the ninth grade. So when my older sister and I finished our ninth grade years, then there were three of us, and this older brother had a car, so he could transport us in our junior and senior years. At that time, the high school only went to eleventh grade. I graduated from high school in 1936. Being a country farmer's boy, and not having the facilities to go right on off to college, I was out of school for four years, and went back and enrolled in college in 1940 up at A & T College. In later years, we got into the university system. From there, I was drafted into the Army, and I entered the Army on April 30, 1943, after completing two quarters of my junior year at A & T. So I was pulled right out of college, as they did many other advanced ROTC students. So I went into the service, and went into the Officers Candidate School in the infantry at Ft. Benning, Georgia. From there, I was in the first wave of replacements to go to the 92nd Infantry Division, which was an all-black division at that time. The 92nd was engaged in the fighting in Italy in the European theater. We were on the Italian side of it, rather than with the French and English. I landed on Leghorn, Italy on my birthday in 1944. From there, I participated in the infantry battles up the boot of Italy toward Milan. I was wounded in action and got the Purple Heart with the cluster. For some reason or another, I received a Bronze Star during those engagements. Luckily, the war ended for us on June 8, 1945. We called it V-E Day, victory in Europe. There was a year I spent in Italy while we were cleaning up all those ammo depots and a lot of other administrative things, cleaning up the destruction and aftermath of the war. I returned to the States and went back to A & T in September of '46 and graduated in '47 with a BS degree in Agriculture. I had a minor in biological science, in chemistry, and in English. Doing all of that, I wanted to go to medical school, but wasn't sure that I would get an opportunity. My main course was following a degree in agriculture, but I took enough subjects to be qualified for medical school. Luckily, I was accepted to Meharry, and I entered Meharry in September of '47, and graduate in '51. I think it might be interesting to note at this point that there was no medical school at that time in the state of North Carolina that accepted black medical students. They had developed a kind of program that they would give some kind of medical assistance, and it was administered by North Carolina Central University in Durham [then the North Carolina College for Negroes], and I was a recipient of that out-of-state grant to help fund my medical education at Meharry. After finishing in 1951, I went to back into the army to Tacoma, Washington to do my internship, as we called it then. Now, the first year out of medical school is the residence. So I did my internship at Madigan Army Hospital, about 30 miles south of Seattle. I had a very uneventful training period there, then came back to Ft. Bragg. By going into the Army, I owed them some time, so I had to pay it back for having interned in their program. I was stationed at Ft. Bragg for the next couple of years, where I was on the staff at Womack Army Hospital, and was engaged in regular medical services and back-ups.