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For the first time in 157 years, the Mississippi State Medical Association has selected a black physician to head its organization. The 5,000-member medical group has selected Dr. Claude Brunson as its president-elect. Dr. Brunson is currently senior adviser to the vice chancellor for external affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Dr. Brunson will assume his responsibilities next year, the same year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. Ironically, 50 years prior to Dr. Brunson’s appointment, the white president-elect of the medical association opposed the hiring of black physicians in Mississippi hospitals. The decision sparked mass protests of black physicians and nurses.

Freedom Summer in Mississippi was a ten-week period in June 1964 in which civil rights groups worked to register as many blacks as possible to vote. Organized by the Council of Federations Organizations, activists set up Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and community centers to aid the black community. More than 100 physicians, doctors, nurses and social workers volunteered hours of emergency care for black citizens. Their work was in response to Mississippi’s segregated healthcare system. While Freedom Summer was an effort to provide opportunities for blacks in a racist and segregated system, some protesters lost their lives or were beaten, left homeless or arrested by Mississippi law enforcement and racist groups.

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