One of our patriotic messages during World War II was that our society was better than that promoted by the Axis forces. And part of that messaging was about how we were more tolerant and inclusive than Hitler’s “master Aryan race.”
To Americans of color, all of them keenly aware of our segregated military, the internment camps for Japanese Americans, or the whites-only Boilermakers union in the shipyards, this was a challenging sell. But winning the war demanded huge changes in attitude from everyone. One high profile commitment to honoring diversity was the naming of cargo ships, a task which fell under the direction of the Maritime Commission’s Ship Naming Committee.
Before the war ended, 18 Liberty ships built for the Maritime Commission were named for outstanding African Americans. Towards the end of the war four of them honored black Merchant Mariners who perished under fire. In addition, four of the subsequent Victory-class ships were named for historically black colleges. Six of these 22 vessels were built in Kaiser shipyards; some – most notably the SS George Washington Carver – were predominately built by African American men and women. Ships thus named were a tremendous source of recognition and pride in the black community. Historian Shirley Ann Moore described the impact of one launching in her seminal work about the Richmond (Calif.) African American community To Place Our Deeds:
“Thousands of black people, far more than could be ‘simply be accounted for by black shipyard workers and their families,’ crowded into the yard. As the ship ‘shivered and slid into the water,’ a black woman ‘threw up her arms and raised her voice above the crowd. ‘Freedom’ she cried.’ “
The SS John Hope [#272] was launched January 30, 1944. It was Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2’s 272nd Liberty ship and the 8th ship named after an outstanding African American. Hope, born in Atlanta, was an African-American educator and political activist, the first African-descended president of both Morehouse College in 1906 and of Atlanta University in 1929, where he worked to develop graduate programs. Both were historically black colleges.
Presiding at the launch were Walter Gordon, Elizabeth Gordon, and their daughter Betty Gordon. Also present were Mrs. Harry Kingman, Matron of Honor (whose husband was the chairman of the President’s Fair Practices Employment Committee), Miss Florence Gee (daughter of a shipyard worker), and Rev. Roy Nichols (Associate Minister of the newly formed South Berkeley Community Church).
Walter Arthur Gordon (1894-1976) was the first African American to receive a doctorate of law from U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school. He had an extremely long and varied career where he served as a police officer, lawyer, assistant football coach, member of the California Adult Authority, governor of the United States Virgin Islands, and a federal district judge.
The launch proceedings were published in the May 1944 issue of The Sphinx magazine, the second-oldest continuously published African American journal in the United States. The article stated:
Mr. Thomas Pruitt, a baritone and burner on graveyard shift at the Richmond yards, sang two songs: “Water Boy” and “Without a song.”
Mrs. Hope was unable to attend, but sent a message that was read aloud:
“You can imagine how happy it would make me to see that great ship slide down the ways. We hope that it will help hasten the day when liberty, justice, and peace will reign over the entire world. I know that this would be John Hope’s wish. He was a member of nature’s nobility. This ship would not be worthy of his name, if it were not willing to give its all for humanity.”
These pictures of that launching, never previously published, are from the extensive and remarkable collection taken by African American photographer Emmanuel Francis Joseph.
1. SS Booker T. Washington, educator and founder of Tuskegee Institute (#648, September 29, 1942, California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
[It was aboard this ship that West Indies-born Captain Hugh Mulzac became the first African American merchant marine naval officer to command an integrated crew during World War II]
2. SS George Washington Carver, scientist (#542, May 7, 1943; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #1)
3. SS Frederick Douglass, abolitionist leader and editor (#988, May 22, 1943; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore,)
4. SS John Merrick, insurance executive (#1990, July 11, 1943; North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, Wilmington, NC)
5. SS Robert L. Vann, founder and publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier (#2189, October 10, 1943; South Portland Shipbuilding Corporation, South Portland, Maine)
6. SS Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet (#1897, October 19, 1943; California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
7. SS James Weldon Johnson, poet, author and diplomat (#2546, December 12, 1943; California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
8. SS John Hope, educator (#2742, January 30, 1944; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)
9. SS John H. Murphy, founder and publisher of The Afro-American (#2614, March 29, 1944; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)
10. SS Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian independence leader (#2780, April 4, 1944; Kaiser Richmond Shipyard #2)
11. SS Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender (#2785, April 13, 1944; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)
12. SS Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad (#3032, June 3, 1944; South Portland Shipbuilding Corporation, South Portland, Maine)
13. SS Bert Williams, comedian and vaudeville performer (#3079, June 4, 1944; Todd New England Shipbuilding Corp., South Portland, Maine)
14. SS Edward A. Savoy, confidential messenger for 22 secretaries of State (#2660, July 19, 1944; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)
15. SS James Kyron Walker, Second Cook, lost on the Gulfamerica, torpedoed and sunk (#2982, December 15, 1944; Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation, Houston, TX)
16. SS Robert J. Banks, Second Cook, lost on the Gulfamerica, torpedoed and sunk (#2392, December 20, 1944; J.A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia)
17. SS William Cox, Fireman, died when the David Atwater was sunk by enemy fire (#2394, December 30, 1944; J.A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia)
18. SS George A. Lawson, Messman aboard the tug Menominee, torpedoed and sunk (#3097, February 1, 1945; New England Shipbuilding Co., Bath, Maine)
19. SS Fisk Victory, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee (#749, May 14, 1945; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)
20. SS Howard Victory, Howard University, Washington. D. C. (#822, May 19, 1945; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)
21. SS Tuskegee Victory, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama (#682, June 5, 1945, Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; Portland, OR)
[Renamed USNS Dutton, T-AGS-22, an oceanographic survey ship, November 1, 1958]
22. SS Lane Victory, Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee (#794, June 27, 1945, California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
The Lane Victory is now a museum ship in San Pedro, Calif., and has appeared in various commercials, movies and television programs.
Photographs courtesy Careth Reid / E.F. Joseph Collection. All rights reserved.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1OglXRy
By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
Part of a series about our regional origins
Kaiser Permanente picked J. Harper Gaston, MD, a Georgia native and graduate of Emory University, to test the Atlanta metropolitan area waters and bring the Health Plan to Georgia in 1984. Dr. Gaston re-established his life in Georgia after 23 years with The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California.
His wife, Anne Hendrick Gaston, MD, a Permanente pediatrician in Northern California, also returned to Georgia in 1984. Harper Gaston reconnected with friends, colleagues and institutional representatives to build a strong base for The Southeast Permanente Medical Group, established in 1985.
Kaiser Permanente of Georgia’s physicians saw their first patients in the Northlake Medical Office in DeKalb County, opened in October 1985. Three months later, Kaiser Permanente opened the Cumberland medical office, and then established a facility near the Southwest Community Hospital to serve residents there, who were mostly African-American.
Gaston selected several prominent members of the Atlanta community to serve on Kaiser Permanente of Georgia’s Board of Directors: banker John W. McIntyre; physician Louis Wade Sullivan, who was also dean and director of the Morehouse College of Medicine and later appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services); and community leader Laura Jones Hardman.
Kaiser Permanente acquired financially failing Maxicare Georgia, a health maintenance group with 35,000 members in 1988, and the Health Plan grew from 265 members at the end of 1985 to 100,000 members by 1989. Throughout the 1990s the Atlanta area continued to boom, and by 2010 the Health Plan membership had expanded to almost 250,000.
In recent expansions, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia has added new facilities in 13 locations. Today, Kaiser Permanente has 28 medical facilities in the 28-county Atlanta metropolitan area, and 400 physicians taking care of its members.
Gastons enjoyed illustrative California careers
As a Permanente pediatrician and neonatologist, Anne Gaston taught medical students and residents in the Intensive Care Nursery at University of California in San Francisco for 20 years. In 1979, she became professor of pediatrics there. She also served as director of the Intensive Care Nursery at Marin General Hospital under a special contract with The Permanente Medical Group.
Harper Gaston, an internist/cardiologist, served as physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center before returning to Georgia in 1984. He served with the California Heart Association for 20 years, taking a term as president, and was an adviser to the Emory University System of Healthcare Board of Directors and a member of the Emory Board of Visitors. He retired from The Southeast Permanente Medical Group in 1992.
Emory recognizes Gastons for community service
For the Gastons, moving back to Georgia after a quarter of a century in California enabled them to renew their commitment to the Emory Medical School community that had helped launch their careers.
In 1996, both Harper and Anne Gaston were honored by the Emory University Medical Alumni Association with its Award of Honor for their career-long community activities in Georgia and California.
Since 1994, the Gastons have sponsored the Gaston Service Award Scholarships for Emory medical students who have amassed impressive records of community service.
Roots in medicine go back to early California
In 2009, Harper Gaston published A Heritage Lived up to & Beyond, a collection of stories told to Gaston by his grandmother Louise Frederick Hays, who was the Georgia State Historian from 1937 to 1951.
In 1942, Hays wrote an article about Gaston’s great-great grandfather, her grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Keene, MD, the first president of the California Medical Society in 1856. First published in 1942 by the CMA, it was reprised in 2004 in The Permanente Journal, the quarterly publication of the Permanente Medical Groups.
Dr. Keene, a Georgia physician, went to California in 1849 to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush. After a mining stint, he settled in El Dorado County to practice medicine. He represented the county in the California Senate for three terms, leaving office in 1856.
Also in 1856, he helped found the medical society that was the precursor of the California Medical Association. Dr. Keene died of paralysis, also in 1856, and was buried in Placerville, Calif. In 1912, Hays located the grave, and CMA replaced his broken headstone in 1923.
By Ginny McPartland
For Harper Gaston, MD, going to Atlanta 25 years ago to start Kaiser Permanente in Georgia was much like going home. A Georgia native and alumnus of Emory University, Gaston was at first reluctant. He had been practicing internal medicine and cardiology at the Hayward Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Northern California for 23 years and had just been elected physician-in-chief.
“I told them: I am planning on retiring to Georgia, but my intent is to serve out my term, about four more years in California,” Gaston said in an interview with Historian Steve Gilford after his retirement in 1993.
However, the pressure to help establish a Georgia Region for Kaiser Permanente was intense. In 1985, Atlanta was the fastest growing city in the U.S. and was rated as the best place to do business in a survey of 400 CEOs. Atlanta was second only to Los Angeles in employer growth. Kaiser Permanente, with a presence in California, Oregon, Hawaii and the Midwest, was anxious to bring its brand of community-based prepaid health care to Atlanta, the hub of the Southeast.
Eventually convinced Atlanta was a good move, Gaston packed up with his wife, Anne Gaston, a Hayward KP pediatrician, and went to Georgia in the summer of 1985. Anne Gaston was also going home; she had come to Northern California from Georgia with her husband to join KP in 1961.
Gaston also took along two key people to start the health care program: Edgar T. Carlson of the Ohio Permanente Region who became Georgia regional manager; and Margaret Jordan, RN, a quality leader in Oakland, as Georgia health plan manager. Ron Hostettler, also from Ohio, came as assistant health plan manager and marketing director; John Blankenship came from Southern California Region as chief financial officer.
When Gaston hit the ground in Atlanta, he knew just what to do. He renewed his community contacts and got involved with Emory University, the Medical Association of Georgia, and other local physician organizations. “Knowing the leadership of these places and refurbishing old contacts was a great help. I think you can go home again.”
Gaston also picked several prominent members of the Atlanta community – banker John W. McIntyre; physician Louis Wade Sullivan, dean and director of the Morehouse College of Medicine (later to be appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services); and community leader Laura Jones Hardman – to sit on the KP Georgia board of directors. Bruce Sams, MD, a native Georgian and executive director of the Northern California Permanente Medical Group, was also a key figure on the Georgia board.
As founding medical director, Gaston personally called on many of Atlanta’s physicians in their offices during 1985, the start-up year. He selected the best doctors in all parts of the metro Atlanta, including the black community, and invited them to join the Southeast Permanente Medical Group (TSPMG) to care for KP members. He negotiated contracts with three Atlanta area hospitals for KP inpatient care. “They were exactly the best hospitals in Atlanta, no question about it,” he said.
Early acceptance and rapid growth
KP Georgia’s earliest members were seen starting in October of 1985 at Northlake Medical Office in DeKalb County. Three months later, the Cumberland office was opened and then, another facility was opened near Southwest Community Hospital in the black community. The new region ended the year with 265 members, 25 health plan employees and seven TSPMG employees. Acquiring financially ailing Maxicare and securing the state of Georgia employee account in 1988, the region grew to 100,000 members by 1989.
Georgia KP had set up 10 medical facilities by the end of the 1990s and added another seven in the 2000s. This year, development has accelerated with four new buildings already launched and three more planned. Today, 280 Georgia region physicians and 2,200 staff members care for about a quarter of a million members in 20-plus facilities throughout the 28-county Atlanta metro area.
Emphasis on quality care
From the beginning, Gaston was intent on high quality for Georgia KP members. His efforts paid off. In 1995, Georgia Kaiser Permanente was one of two health plans in Atlanta to earn the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA) three-year accreditation. In 1998, Newsweek and US News and World Report rated Kaiser Permanente the No. 1 health plan in Georgia. The American Medical Group Association gave the Southeast Permanente Medical Group (TSPMG) its Preeminence Award in 2002.
More accolades were to follow:
- Special NCQA recognition in 2006 for putting into place programs to solve health disparities for African Americans, Latinos and Asians
- Atlanta Magazine’s 2008 award to KP as a “Best Place to Work”
- J.D. Power’s ranking of Georgia KP as highest in customer satisfaction among health plans in the South Atlantic region, 2008
- US News and World Report top-rated health plan in Georgia, 2008
- 2010: the NCQA announced in October that KP Georgia has the highest breast cancer screening rate in the country, 91 percent, compared to a 71 percent national average.
Community service a given for KP
Shortly after opening in Georgia, Kaiser Permanente looked for opportunities to offer help to the community. In 1986, Permanente physicians agreed to reinstate recently discontinued hearing and vision screening for financially strapped area schools. Physicians screened 3,600 children in 17 DeKalb County elementary schools and two City of Decatur schools.
Over the years, the scale has only gotten bigger. Georgia region has sponsored the huge, area-wide Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk and Fitness Program since 2004. In 2005, the Atlanta American Red Cross named KP Georgia the Philanthropist of the Year for its sponsorship of the annual CPR Saturday program. For its 20th anniversary in 2005, KP Georgia gave $1 million to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
To wrap up its quarter of a century, Georgia KP topped itself with a $2.5 million donation for the development of the Eastside section of the Atlanta Beltline trail. The corridor of parks, trails and passenger rail service takes advantage of an old 22-mile railroad right-of-way that loops around the city. KP Georgia has also committed to a $5 million donation to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for a new hospital.