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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Recruitment by Department of Veteran Affairs and discrimination at UAB

Moore explains how she was recruited by the federal government to be one of six African American students to integrate the medical technology certification program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Having completed her bachelor's degree at the Tuskegee Institute, Moore was well-prepared for her courses at UAB; however, she recalls facing visceral opposition from both students and instructors who expected her to fail. According to Moore, UAB administrators tried to blackball her from employment in Birmingham hospitals. Nevertheless, she was able to find employment at the VA hospital at the behest of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. For Moore, her experiences at UAB marked the beginning of a string of efforts to discredit her abilities, which she argues continued into her employment at the VA hospital in Birmingham.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. 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

SARAH THUESEN:
Did you join the union right away when you first started working there?
MARY MOORE:
I joined the union maybe a year or so after I started working. The reason why I joined the union is one of the young men that worked in the nursing service, any time he would come in the lab he would say, "Well, Mary I just see you working all the time. Are you ever off?" I kept telling him they told me, working the shift that I'm working, I've got to work the holidays. I've got to work overtime. When in reality what was happening with me was different than what was happening to some of the blacks in the laboratory. To go back to the educational process, when the federal government asked for recruits to come and integrate the School of Medical Technology there was six of us from different schools. Two of us came from Tuskegee. A couple came from, at that point in time, Alabama A&M didn't have a program. They would, the junior year, their students went to Long Island University. Then they would do their internship there. After they finished their senior year, they recruited some of them to come and be in their program. Out of the six that was in the program, one young lady, Angela Finley, had started at UAB, one of the first blacks that started UAB in medical technology. They felt pretty comfortable with Angela. But then you got five blacks that was not a part of UAB to come in. The philosophy was that if I went to a predominantly black university I should not be able to compete with whites. In many cases they harassed you to death. From the point, when I saw the other four disappear, and I'm saying, "Why did they drop out of the curriculum?" When my day came, I would be called to the administrator's office and they would make statements like, "You know black women are made to have babies and not to be in a curriculum like this. This is too difficult for you." The quarter that I was supposed to take chemistry, they would call me in everyday.
SARAH THUESEN:
These were administrators of the Medical Technology Program?
MARY MOORE:
Right. They had a way of not ever being able to say Negro. It always came out "Niggras" are not mentally able to do well in science courses. You getting ready to take you chemistry: "You won't do well because you just don't have the mental capacity." My thought process was this: I attended Tuskegee Institute. My chemistry instructor was one of the top chemists from Germany. If I could pass Dr. Gierach's course, there was nothing at the UAB that even came close to her. She was one of the top scientists there that came here on a fellowship. When I took Parasitology, it was one of the top doctors in that field that came from Mayo Clinic. Now, you going to tell me little old UAB that's got a School of Medical Technology over the Dew Drop Café where we listen to country music everyday, smell all the greasy food, going to tell me I can't pass your chemistry courses. You're Parasitology, your biology. I told them that—I had to explain to them. They thought I was crazy. I said, "Look, I'm far superior than anybody that you'll ever have come through here." I said, "As a ninth grader leaving eighth grade going to ninth grade, do you not know that I was on college campuses then?" During the segregated eras they had programs where if you excelled in science or math, during the summer months you could spend it on college campuses throughout this country, doing additional study in science. In some cases, if you did well in English, they had programs for that. I'm saying, "Look here. You're just getting off the ground and I've had taken the courses through the few quarters I've been in and now you want to say that mentally I'm not able to do this when everything you presented to me was on a high school level compared to what I had at Tuskegee." They would do things like that. Then what they would do is if I made an A or a B on a test they would tear it up in front of the class. Then all the white students would laugh. The instructor would come by and say we can't let this slip by that a Negro was able to do better on the same level as whites. You had to endure that type of mental thing and take your mind to a different level to accept it and say, "I'm not going to allow you to tear me down." When I got to the VA Hospital after I—. They couldn't stop me from making it through the course and doing my internship. They blackballed me. UAB blackballed me to every hospital in Birmingham and probably in the state of Alabama. Whenever I went to get a job, when I got close to graduation, and started putting in my application, people would say I don't care what you are qualified to do, we've already gotten your name and we're not going to give you an application. No hospital would give me an application. My second thing to do was to call Washington and call Central Office. You all recruited me. You asked me to come to this school along with other students to help integrate it. Now you all got to do something. Technically they hired me from Washington, DC.
SARAH THUESEN:
What was the agency you were dealing with in Washington?
MARY MOORE:
The Department of Veterans Affairs. They govern the VA Hospitals. They were the ones that were educationally seeking more students in Medical Technology that was black.
SARAH THUESEN:
They had also recruited you to do the program in the first place?
MARY MOORE:
They were the ones. I called and said, "Look here I can't get a job here. I've done what you asked me to do. I've been successful. Now, where do I get a job?" They technically hired me from Washington. All I had to do was report to this VA. You have to understand that the VA Hospital and university just like this. They did everything in their power to discredit me. Even to the point that they falsif—. Only vacation that I had, when I first started working, they would not even let me take vacation. After about two years or so I managed to get vacation time off. Went on vacation, came back. I was hit with a charge of turning out a patient's result that was false. I'm saying, "How did I do that?" The people that did it didn't know that I didn't show up for work that night because I had already signed up that I would not come on midnight shift. I'll start my vacation because we had enough people to cover. When I got back they were saying, "Well, you know you misdiagnosed a patient. You wrote down his lab work in hematology which showed that the patient had Leukemia because you misidentified the cells." I said, "I misidentified the cell. I don't think so." I had to go through that process. Finally showed out I was not at work that night. You need to find out who it was that did that. It was one of the white supervisors. I had that to happen all the way up to maybe a few years before I retired.