The Tell Tale Heart: Racism in Richmond Medicine

By Peter Galuszka

On Saturday, May 25, 1968, the Medical College of Virginia, now part of Virginia Commonwealth University, made medical history.  A surgeon recruited from Stanford University a couple of years before successfully transplanted the heart from one middle-aged man to another.

MCV officials in Richmond officials were ecstatic. Organ transplants were a hot, fairly new surgical procedure. Once stuck in the junior varsity leagues of medical training and research, MCV was basking in glory from media coverage.

There was one peculiarity that no one seemed to notice. The name of the heart donor was missing. As it turned out, the donor was Bruce Tucker, a Richmond Tucker happened to be African-American.

Tucker had suffered a serious brain injury from a fall the day before. He was taken to MCV. Hospital officials made a perfunctory search for his relatives. Tucker’s brother was desperately looking for him and his business card was in Bruce’s pocket. No one found it.

So, after Bruce was pronounced dead, his heart was removed and placed in the chest of Richard G. Klett, a white business executive from Orange. This shocking story is well documented in a highly readable book by Richmond author and journalist Chip Jones that has been just published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Tucker’s brother finally located hospital officials who started talking about an autopsy and that he needed to find a funeral director.

Jones is a former reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Roanoke Times where his team was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of a massive strike against Pittston that swept the Appalachian coal fields. He also wrote for Virginia Business where Jim Bacon was publisher and I once was executive editor.

Jones has written three other books, mostly about the military, notably the Marine Corps. One of his relatives was Marine Commandant.

I spoke with Chip for a cover story I wrote for Style Weekly this week. It deals with Richmond’s overweening insecurity as a prominent community, the city’s history as a booming market for snatching freshly dead and mostly Black bodies for research and just how dangerous scientific fades, such as transplants can be.

If you still need even more evidence of the systemic racism in Virginia, open Jones’ book “Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South.”

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26 responses to “The Tell Tale Heart: Racism in Richmond Medicine

  1. Kudos to Chip for uncovering a great topic and running it to the ground. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    I don’t think anyone would dispute that “systemic racism” existed in Virginia in 1968. The question is whether racism is “systemic” today, as your final paragraph suggests it is. Fifty-two years have passed since then. Our institutions have undergone extensive change. Liberals have a weird way of conflating the past with the present.

    • It may have ended. Or not. Certainly systemic racism was alive and well in 1984 (in some parts of the state) as 25 year old Ralph Northam attended a party in blackface accompanied by a date in klan robes. Take another look at the klan robes from that picture. They weren’t some bed sheet with a hole cut out for the head. No, they were either the real McCoy a very accurate facsimile. Where would a medical student even get klan robes in 1984?

      Virginia’s unique independent city structure keeps some public schools segregated. The percentage of white students in Richmond city schools declined from 45 to 21 percent between 1960 and 1975 and continued to decline over the next several decades. By 2010 white students accounted for less than 9 percent of student enrollment in Richmond.

      In January 1972, the ciourts ruled that students in Henrico and Chesterfield counties would have to be bused into the City of Richmond in order to decrease the high percentage of black students in Richmond’s schools. This order was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 6, 1972, barring forced busing schemes that made students cross county/city boundaries.

      How convenient. The only state where cities are never in counties perpetuates effective segregation of its capital’s public schools because of that odd construct.

      Those who don’t see systemic racism in NoVa might want to take a longer look around RoVa.

      By the way, how is that statue of the architect of Massive Resistance erected on Capitol Square in 1976 doing?

    • On June 4, 2020 Mr. Galuszka wrote the following:

      “There has been much debate on this blog regarding whether there is ‘systemic racism’ in Virginia and the rest of the country.”

      I’m not a professional writer, but that would appear to be the thesis statement. It is my understanding (from grade school) that the essay should address the question or assertion in the thesis statement.

      But instead of proving there “is” systemic racism in Virginia and the rest of the country, Mr. Galuszka then proceeds to answer a different question that was not asked. That being, “was” there systemic racism in Virginia and the rest of the country.

      It seems he still has not come to grips with the difference between “is” and “was.” Here, let me be of assistance.

      https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-is-and-was#:~:text=is%2D%20it%20is%20used%20in,it%2C%20kumar%2C%20radha%20etc.&text=Was%2D%20it%20is%20used%20in,it%2C%20kumar%2C%20radha%20etc.

      • maybe this is “IS” :

        • Those are opinions. Opinions are not facts.

          If 60% of people THINK you are guilty of murder, does it make you guilty of murder in the eyes of the law? No, it does not. And the fact the 60% of people THINK there has not been enough progress establishing racial equality does not mean it is true.

          In fact, given the obsession in recent years by leftists and the media to make absolutely everything a racial issue, I’m surprised the number isn’t more like 75%

          • Oh they are for sure but don’t you think it’s a bit presumptions for white guys to be telling black folks there is no racism in the first place , in THEIR opinion?

            So, basically you’re saying that black folks are not guided by their own experience -they are “led” by the leftist media but white guys are not so easily misled and know the truth?

            yep – that’s how we’re gonna fix this – white guys tells black folks – go sit down – your views are opinions…

          • You’re the one who’s separating whites and blacks – and you’re the only one who repeatedly presumes to tell us what “black folks” think. The fact is, I don’t use the term “black folks”(except when quoting you) because I consider it insulting. Others may not consider it insulting and I am fine with that.

            The FACT is, I did not say anywhere in my comment whether I think enough progress has been made on racial equality. All I did was point out that you were trying to substitute opinions for facts.

            I did not say any of the things you accuse me of saying. And don’t you think it’s a bit presumptuous for you to tell me what my opinions are?

            By the way, I don’t owe you any kind of an explanation, but I DON’T think there has been enough progress in bringing about true equal opportunities for all races in this country. I probably think there has been more progress than you think there has been, but that does not make me wrong and you right, and it certainly does not entitle you to make things up about me.

          • I use black folks in a positive way. Just convert it to black people if you, as a white guy, find it off putting.

            I’m not asking about racial progress.. I’m asking if there is still racism … and we need to be acting accordingly.

            Are we discounting “opinion” in a poll as something other than a real view? If someone says they think there is racism, do we reject it because it’s an opinion? What is 75% of people say that? Still an “opinion” and based not on personal experience but instead a “leftist” media?

            If you feel I directly accused you of something – lay it out – and if I did – I will apologize… no problem

          • LarrytheG wrote:
            “yep – that’s how we’re gonna fix this – white guys tells black folks – go sit down – your views are opinions…”

            I could be mistaken, but I’m not aware of any “white guys” telling “black folks” anything in this forum.

            I do see what appear to be “white guys” who feel that they have the right, and the ability to speak for “black folks.”

            I also think discussions in forums such as this are most productive when writers speak only for themself.

          • re: ” I also think discussions in forums such as this are most productive when writers speak only for themself”

            what’s all this “woke” and “virtue signaling” stuff?

        • LarrytheG – That graphic proves our entire society is systemically racist?

          Is it racist for people to have a different point of view on a topic of importance?

          Is it racist for individuals to make assessments based at least in part on their own life experience?

          Is public perception always accurate?

          Is it possible for a society to have progressed from systemic racism, but still find itself in a state where more changes are needed?

          You seem to understand the “is” part, but in my view have more work to do on the systemic racism part. The discussion thus far has firmly established the assertion, but still lacks the proof.

          • Well, what it “proves” is that a hell of a lot of black folks think we still have racism and more than a few white guys are saying “no such thing”.

            The point is do you believe black folks or do you reject their viewpoint?

            How do we go forward with this divergence of views?

            We’re just going to reject black folks views and move on?

          • LarrytheG wrote:
            Well, what it “proves” is that a hell of a lot of black folks think we still have racism and more than a few white guys are saying “no such thing”.

            Nathan:
            It proves nothing definitively. I does however demonstrate the limited value of vaguely worded survey questions with binary options that force every responder to pick one or the other, with no ability to capture the range of views on an important topic.

            LarrytheG:
            The point is do you believe black folks or do you reject their viewpoint?

            Nathan:
            More binary thinking with a binary choice. “Black folks” are individuals with a range of views. There is no singular “viewpoint” for me to agree or disagree with. Additionally, I may agree with some aspects of the majority opinion of a group while disagreeing with other aspects.

            LarrytheG
            How do we go forward with this divergence of views?

            Nathan:
            Human beings have divergent views about everything. Whats shocking about that? The way to move forward is to find consensus and common ground. The consensus in this situation is staring you in the face. I thought you were against negativity? 61% of adults believe we should do something. The remainder might even hop onboard if we could find common ground. But instead of trying to do that, the author of this article keeps beating the “systemic racism” drum. That’s not a path to consensus and common ground. Digging up bones and beating people over the head with them is not “How we go forward”

            LarrytheG:
            We’re just going to reject black folks views and move on?

            Nathan:
            Another false dichotomy. Again, find consensus and common ground and build on that. Peter Galuszka’s article contributes nothing productive. It’s just something for everyone to fight about. Step one is to stop doing what doesn’t work. Then start focusing on something that has at least some chance of gaining consensus and moving toward a positive direction. It can be done.

          • so if one group believes there IS systemic racism and the other group does not – then what?

            What is “proof” is this context?

            You seem to think nothing happens – it’s just folks with opinions and as long as there is not “proof” no biggie!!

            Stuff happens…big, impactful stuff happens…

            Colleges change their policies.

            People go into the streets.

            People get voted out or into office and they in turn change the laws.

            It’s pretty foolish to look at polls and think they don’t mean much.

            They represent peoples viewpoints AND their actions downstream.

            If you are a politician and get up and say something that 70% of your voters disagree with (and you find that out in polls), then you’re toast as a politician.

          • LarrytheG:
            so if one group believes there IS systemic racism and the other group does not – then what?

            This need not be a show stopper. It depends on how it’s handled. If we spend all our time and energy attacking each other over whether society is, or is not, systemically racist, very little of good will come out of it. On the other hand, if we find specific problems that everyone agrees need attention, we can expend energy trying to find ways to improve those problems.

            You seem to think conservatives are holding back progress on this, and many other issues. If that’s true, why so much unrest in places that are overwhelmingly liberal? Shouldn’t places that have been controlled by Democrats for the last 50 years be models of near perfection?

          • well no. I’m listening to folks who say there is no systemic racism and are right ugly about it – while black peope are saying this is and something needs to be done about it.

            Isn’t that a fact?

            How do we go forward if one side says there is no problem and the other side says there is and the first side goes ape crap when Colleges and other institutions react to it and make changes?

  2. It’s double edged. VCU has an honorary plaque honoring the operation. The MCV Foundation also has a lengthy apology on its Website. I do not think it is time to say it’s over and all is forgiven.

  3. “It deals with Richmond’s overweening insecurity as a prominent community …”

    Ain’t that the truth.

  4. Larry,

    You wrote: “So, basically you’re saying that black folks are not guided by their own experience -they are “led” by the leftist media but white guys are not so easily misled and know the truth?”

    You may have put a question mark at the end of it to cover your ass but it is clearly worded as a statement – A statement I did not make.

    And then: ” don’t you think it’s a bit presumptions for white guys to be telling black folks there is no racism in the first place , in THEIR opinion?”

    Again, it’s a question, but it is based on your assumption that I (the white guy you were responding to) was saying there is no racism.

    You turned a simple statement of fact: “Polls present opinions, not facts” into a rant based on your idea of what I think – and you were wrong to do so.

  5. okey doke… no problem.

    • A priest, a rabbit and a baptist preacher walk in to a bar.

      The bartender asks the rabbit “what’ll you have”? The rabbit says “I don’t know, I’m only here because of Autocorrect”

  6. okay… that’s painfully funny… 😉

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