Carnegie and Rockefeller's Philanthropic Legacy: Exclusion of African Americans From Medicine

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In the first 3 decades of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Andrew Carnegie used their philanthropy to support 2 main mechanisms that functioned to exclude African American doctors from medical education and the medical profession. First, Carnegie funded the Flexner report, recommending reforms to medical education including the closure of most Black medical schools. Next, Rockefeller's General Education Board (GEB) funded restructures to medical education without equal support to ensure Black medical schools could keep up with changing standards. For every dollar the GEB donated to Black medical schools between 1902 and 1919, it donated $123 to White schools. During that period, for every dollar the GEB donated to White medical schools per White resident, it donated about $0.07 to Black schools per African American resident. Next, Rockefeller's philanthropy supported a system of school education that underprepared African American candidates to meet the requirements needed to enter medicine. For African American children, the GEB supported a kind of schooling termed industrial education, which emphasized manual training (e.g., skills related to agricultural science and efficiency). In 1933, industrial education schools were located in 57% of all Southern counties, and two-thirds of African Americans who attended primary and secondary school received an education that followed the industrial education curriculum. Industrial education underprepared candidates for applying to medical school, completing a medical school curriculum, and passing a medical board examination. This article examines how these 2 mechanisms had lasting and harmful effects on the underrepresentation of African American doctors in the medical workforce. These insights provide a broad and collective understanding of the early role of philanthropy in excluding African Americans from the medical profession, which is a crucial first step toward developing interventions to help redress racial discrepancies in the medical profession that persist today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-316
Number of pages4
JournalAcademic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


  • Philanthropy
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Medical scholarships
  • African Americans
  • Exclusion
  • Racism


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