Widely Published Observations about Health Disparities 50 Years After the Death of Martin Luther King

“Of all of the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman,” observed Martin Luther King in 1966. An article published in the Washington Post and more than 150 other news outlets marking the 50th anniversary of King’s death included observations about continuing health disparities across the U.S. made by Thomas LaVeist, professor and chair of the department of health policy and management at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The article focused on disparities in Atlanta, where King was born and raised, which has major gaps between African Americans and whites in rates of mortality due to breast and prostate cancer, HIV, diabetes, and stroke.  It also includes LaVeist’s observation that “there really is not a city that’s spared” from health gaps between African-Americans and whites. 

The gaps are not necessarily due to shortcomings in the health care system, according to LaVeist and other people who have studied the issue. Rather, they are the result of decades of discrimination. “It’s a constellation of things,” LaVeist said. “African-Americans couldn’t own land, wealth couldn’t transfer from one generation to the next. Those were advantages [for whites] that were formed decades ago.”

“The disparities are really national problems,” LaVeist said. 

The article was originally published in Kaiser Health News and the dozens of other outlets where it ran also included the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) and the Miami Herald (Florida).