Black Dentists, Too, Faced Bigotry

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Regarding the July 10 front- page article "Doctors' Group Plans Apology for Racism":

Institutionalized racism wasn't limited to the American Medical Association. The local Northern Virginia Dental Society (NVDS) had similar restrictions, which were tacitly allowed by the national American Dental Association (ADA).

In the early 1960s, my father, Berton Rudin, who was a dentist in Alexandria and president of the NVDS, was the first person in the organization to nominate for membership an African American dentist -- a colleague with whom he volunteered at the local free dental clinic. The society's member nomination rules required two sponsors, but obtaining a second signature for that nomination took two years. In an acrimonious meeting, NVDS members rejected the nomination. The group remained closed to black dentists.

At the time, the ADA wrote to my father advising him that while the national organization didn't condone racism, it could not stipulate membership practices for its affiliate organizations.

Meanwhile, my father's idealism didn't come without risk. Another colleague cautioned him that his efforts could jeopardize his license to practice dentistry in Virginia.

With my mother's support, he persevered. About a year after the nomination was rejected, others in the society moved to change the nomination rules, and the first African Americans were admitted.



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