James L. Sweatt III, MD
Though he doesn’t consider himself a pathfinder, James L. Sweatt III, MD, helped integrate some of the country’s top institutions, including Washington University School of Medicine.
James L. Sweatt III, MD ’62, a trim man with cotton-white hair and a deep voice, laughs as he thinks back to his admission interview with Washington University’s School of Medicine. “I had the impression for years that it was routine for all the professors of the departments in the medical school to sit around and quiz applicants for admission,” he says. “I think it was the 25th or 50th Reunion when I found out that everyone else had been seen by one person and that was that.”
The year was 1958, and though the School of Medicine had been integrated since 1947 (several months before President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education called on states to repeal laws requiring segregation in education), only one African American had previously matriculated there, and he had dropped out.
Sweatt didn’t know that he could potentially become the school’s only black student and first black to graduate. No medical school had interviewed him before, so when he arrived and saw all the professors, he took it in stride.