LACMA entered its 150th year as cultural frustrations once again reached a boiling point in the country, and the world faced a global epidemic that put the spotlight on the widespread health inequities that persisted in the LA County, the state, and the nation.
Through this lens, LACMA approached this book, choosing to acknowledge its past and celebrate its progress.
The goal of the book isn’t to disenfranchise or denigrate any individual, group, ideology. The purpose is to illustrate the commonalities, struggles, and achievements of LACMA and its physicians and to provide both context and contextual elements so that the wrongs of the past are not repeated, bridges are built, all viewpoints are shared and respected, and progress continues to be made.
CHAPTER 2 | PANDEMIC
With the virus snowballing out of control, they closed schools and businesses, banned public gatherings, isolated and quarantined those who were infected. Many communities recommended that citizens wear face masks in public – and this, not the onerous lockdowns, drew the most ire. Sweeping through all strata of society from the halls of power to skid row, the contagion, before long, had penetrated the White House. First, a close aide to the President became ill, then the Commander-in-Chief, himself. The year was 1918; the virus––Spanish Flu.
CHAPTER 3 | A DOCTOR NAMED DOCK
When Nazi officers faced judgment for their war crimes at the Nuremberg trials in the late 1940s, their attorneys mounted a shrewd defense––was it not hypocritical to condemn Germans for pursuing their vision of racial purity when Americans had done the very same thing? The attorneys provided the court with details of laws in Texas, Florida, Maryland, and numerous other states, including California, which outlawed marriage between whites and blacks. Then the advocates entered into the trial record a shocking 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a Virginia law that allowed for the forced sterilization of the "feeble-minded," as the term of art went. Unfit persons included the poor, illiterate, blind, deaf, deformed, diseased, orphans, “ne’er-do-wells,” homeless, tramps, and paupers.
CHAPTER 4 | TAKE A BREATH
With over two million vehicles and growing on its roads and freeways, 1950s Los Angeles was seeing an alarming rise in smog. With its bowl-like geography made Los Angeles, like Denver and Mexico City, a natural pollution trap, its residents breathing some of the dirtiest air in the world. Then there was the issue of cigarettes which had been given out freely to soldiers during World War II and were rapidly becoming a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions.
CHAPTER 5 | THE GREATER GOOD
Since its founding in 1871, the idea of community health has been among the foremost credos of LACMA. In the decades following Dr. Albert Fields’ groundbreaking work to shape public policy, the association launched a number of initiatives in this regard, including bestowing an award recognizing extraordinary contributions to the county’s wellbeing by individual physicians.
CHAPTER 6 | UP IN FLAMES
For many residents of South-Central Los Angeles, April 29, 1992 is a day they remember the way Americans of a certain age recall September 11––an incident etched indelibly into their memories as the moment their world changed forever. Future LACMA president Dr. Robert Bitonte was one of them.
CHAPTER 9 | 151 AND BEYOND
There is much to be proud of in all that LACMA and its physicians have accomplished over the decades, as well as some startling realities and humbling lessons along the way.
Reviewing the history and cataloging the many "firsts" over LACMA's storied 150-year history was cathartic for its current leadership. Doing so in 2020, the year leading up to the 150th celebration and a year filled with pain and anguish over health and social injustice, amplified the lessons and lit a new flame of determination for the organization.