Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/John Buchanan

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Dr. John Creighton Buchanan
BornAugust 15, 1862
Winnsboro, South Carolina
DiedFebruary 28, 1943
ResidenceWinnsboro, SC
OccupationPhysician/Surgeon

About[edit | edit source]

Dr. John Creighton Buchanan was a physician and surgeon from Winnsboro, South Carolina. He worked to provide equality in a segregated, post Civil War, healthcare system.

Biography[edit | edit source]

John Creighton Buchanan, son of Dr. Robert A. Buchanan and Rebecca Woodward, was a white man born in his South Carolina home on August 15, 1862[1]. Buchanan had four brothers and sisters, one of which died before “reaching manhood”. As a child, Buchanan excelled in the subject of mathematics and was a very strong student all the way through his primary and secondary education at the Mt. Zion Institute.


In his teen years, Buchanan expressed interest in South Carolina politics. There was much corruption in politics as “The state was ruled by dishonest white men” (Dixon W.W. 1936-1940, 11332)[2] . Post civil war tensions were high and there was significant tension between the Black and White populations, especially in South Carolina. The presidency of Ulysses S Grant further divided the American South post Civil War and into the Reconstruction era[1]. Much of Buchanan’s views on justice and equality were shaped based on his exposure to corruption and racism in politics as a teenager.

Buchanan went on to attend South Carolina College in the year 1882 and graduated as a top student in 1886. He maintained his excellence in mathematics throughout his undergraduate studies and taught math at his alma mater, the Mt. Zion Institute, post college in 1888.

After briefly teaching mathematics, he pursued his medical education at the South Carolina Medical College beginning in 1889. As a medical student, Buchanan did much of his training in the Negro ward of his hospital, as medicine was very segregated in the late 1800s into the 1900s. Post medical school, now Dr. Buchanan, completed his intern year of medical residency in the same Negro ward, this time being in charge. His philosophy of care was shaped by his time working in the ward caring for Black patients, advocating, "that they received the same care and treatment that was accorded patients in the white wards - ample and proper diet, comfortable beds, efficient nursing and the correct medicines"(Dixon W.W. 1936-1940, 11334)[3] .

Besides working towards equality in medicine, he was also involved in local government through the Extension Board during World War I[4]. Buchanan, along with Drs. Samuel Lindsay and James E. Douglas, reviewed citizens’ requests for exemptions from the WWI draft in the early 1900s pre Great Depression. Buchanan also served on the Winnsboro Board of Public Works, involved in the management of the water and electricity supplies in the town.

Buchanan married his wife, Minnie Young, in 1890 while he began his career as a practicing physician and surgeon. He relocated from Columbia, SC to Winnsboro, SC to start his practice. Back in his home town of Winnsboro, he practiced medicine via horse and buggy making house calls. As a physician and surgeon, he did not hesitate to help Black patients and emphasized providing them more comprehensive and detailed diagnoses. Many of his Black patients did not receive proper diagnoses prior to his treatment due to strong segregation and racism post Civil War. He had strong beliefs in thorough diagnoses in order to provide proper treatment, advocating that “An ounce of knowledge in diagnosis is worth a pound of information about treatment” (Dixon W.W. 1936-1940, 11335)[5]. He preached early intervention and prevention of diseases through early public health principles. Many of his Black patients did not receive proper diagnoses prior to his treatment, therefore highlighting his work in addressing health care inequality. He did not recall facing active backlash from his family or community despite helping the Black community during a time of intense racism, especially in the south. After a successful career of advocating for a diverse patient population, Buchanan died on February 28, 1943 at 80 years old[6].

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Economic Racism During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression (1929-1933)[2] was a time of significant economic downturn for Amercians. Amongst widespread economic suffering, Black Americans faced much of this economic devastation. African American’s were “last hired and first fired” during the Great Depression and their rate of unemployment was two to three times greater than white workers[7]. The 1930s were financially discriminatory towards Black Americans, “Since they were already relegated to lower-paying professions, African Americans had less of a financial cushion to fall back on when the economy collapsed” (Klein 2018)[8]. They also “experienced the highest unemployment rate during the 1930s” (Klein 2018)[9]. Many African Americans fell into an economic class known as the "chronic poor" due to such instability in income[10]. This type of racism was its own type of segregation and classism working against African Americans in the early 1930s.

Racism in Medicine[edit | edit source]

Racism has a long-rooted history in healthcare and the marginalization of African Americans by the system. Healthcare has a longstanding history of inequality as, “Racism is, at least in part, responsible for the fact African Americans, since arriving as slaves, have had the worst health care, the worst health status, and the worst health outcome of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S” (Byrd and Clayton 2001)[11]. Wards in hospitals were segregated into Negro and white wards from the Civil War throughout the Great Depression in the early 1900s. Negro wards frequently set up Black patients for poor outcomes ranging from higher infant mortality to lower life expectancies[12]. The practice of Negro wards was incredibly common in both medical training and practice through the 20th century[13]. Any mingling of staff or patients was seen as an offense punishable by law[14].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Interviewer Dixon, W. W. on Dr. John Creighton Buchanan, 1936-1940, Folder 853, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Interviewer Dixon, W. W. on Dr. John Creighton Buchanan, 1936-1940, Folder 853, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Interviewer Dixon, W. W. on Dr. John Creighton Buchanan, 1936-1940, Folder 853, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Erin, Allen. “World War I: Conscription Laws.” The Library of Congress. USA.gov, September 13, 2016. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2016/09/world-war-i-conscription-laws/#:~:text=The%20law%20also%20addressed%20the,objections%2C%20as%20well%20as%20occupation.&text=This%20law%20directed%20the%20president,of%20exemption%20in%20their%20jurisdiction.
  5. Interviewer Dixon, W. W. on Dr. John Creighton Buchanan, 1936-1940, Folder 853, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  6. Ancestry.com, U.S Find a Grave Index 1600s-current.
  7. Lynch, Hollis. “African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., February 26, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/African-American/African-American-life-during-the-Great-Depression-and-the-New-Deal.
  8. Klein, Christopher . “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. , August 31, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/last-hired-first-fired-how-the-great-depression-affected-african-americans.
  9. Klein, Christopher . “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. , August 31, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/last-hired-first-fired-how-the-great-depression-affected-african-americans.
  10. St J Perrott , George , Edgar Sydenstricker, and Selwyn D. Collins . “Medical Care during the Depression: A Preliminary Report upon a Survey of Wage-Earning Families in Seven Large Cities.” The Milbank Quarterly 12 (December 2005): 99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690273/.
  11. Byrd , W. M. , and Clayton, L.A.. “Race, Medicine, and Health Care in the United States: A Historical Survey.” Journal of the National Medical Association 93, no. 3 (March 2001). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2593958/.
  12. Newkirk II, Vann R. “America’s Health Segregation Problem .” theatlantic.com. The Atlantic , May 18, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/americas-health-segregation-problem/483219/.
  13. Byrd , W. M. , and Clayton, L.A.. “Race, Medicine, and Health Care in the United States: A Historical Survey.” Journal of the National Medical Association 93, no. 3 (March 2001). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2593958/.
  14. Newkirk II, Vann R. “America’s Health Segregation Problem .” theatlantic.com. The Atlantic , May 18, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/americas-health-segregation-problem/483219/.