David French

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 08 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3407
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Cared for US civil rights activists in the 1960s

As an African-American university student in Ohio in the 1940s, David French had a dream. His goal was to complete his undergraduate degree in chemistry and then attend the University of Chicago medical school. But the second world war interfered: he was drafted by the US army, which, at the time, was still segregated by race.

Picking cotton

The pre-med student was assigned to Camp Barkeley in Texas, and was soon doing in an army uniform what black slaves in the southern United States had been doing 80 years before: picking cotton for free.

“There were stories about the past that were oft repeated in my family and ultimately became litanies,” said Lynn, French’s eldest daughter. “And one was about daddy’s experience in the army.” Camp Barkeley, in addition to being a training center for US soldiers, also included a prison for captured German officers. “The German prisoners of war, because they were officers, were afforded preferential treatment and much more dignity than African-American soldiers,” Ms French said. “The irony was not lost upon daddy.”

Some 20 years later and by then a successful surgeon in Washington, DC, French cofounded and …

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