Throughout the nineteenth century African American physicians in South Carolina faced hostility from the white community, received the worst patients, were barred from hospitals and clinics, and lacked access to many medications and supplies. In 1896 Dr. C. C. Johnson of Aiken organized black physicians to promote their interests and insure that concerted actions were taken to solve their problems. Unable to join the racially segregated American Medical Association, five South Carolina physicians organized the Palmetto State Medical Association in 1896 as a vehicle to improve health care for African Americans and to graduate more medically trained professionals.
The association faced some hurdles. It was hard to find meeting places and lodging. Speakers did not want to come to the racially segregated South. Early meetings focused on the advancement of medical science and efforts to lower black mortality rates. In 1936 the first annual clinic offering free medical treatment was held in connection with the annual meeting.
In the 1940s efforts of the association shifted toward preserving the organization and toward the larger issue of desegregation. In 1941 Dr. L. W. Long called for more training and state-sponsored scholarships for African American medical students. He also voiced the need for black practitioners to be hired by tax-supported institutions, as well as for African American representation on the board of the S.C. Department of Health. The group had changed its name to the Palmetto Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association by 1950, and it spent the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s raising monies to educate talented African Americans. In the 1960s members of the association aggressively worked to promote the integration of society. By 1967 the Palmetto Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association (PMDPA) hoped to take advantage of current events that “twisted and molded the dominating power structure.”
Activism continued in the post-civil-rights era as the PMDPA established the Palmetto Political Action Committee. This nonpartisan and voluntary organization provided support for candidates, maintained close liaison with public service organizations, and provided information to members about legislative activities. At the centennial meeting of the PMDPA in 1996, the theme of the gathering echoed, on a larger scale, the goals of the founders as the members continued their efforts to prepare African American youths to carry on “democratic ideals, culture, traditions, and leadership in the free world.”