The story behind the photograph

[Story contributed by Richard Davidson, M.D.]

After an initial scouting year in the summer of 1969, the Student Health Coalition (SHC) began health fairs and community organizing in Appalachia in the summer of 1970. After several months of hard work, seeing patients and organizing local health councils, members of the Coalition met for an extensive debriefing in August 1970.

The debriefing began outdoors, on the lawn of the Vanderbilt University Law School, but moved into the Law School building to facilitate open discussion. There are a number of photographs of the debriefing in the collection. It was decided that after meeting, we would get together for a group photograph with our mentor and long-time chair of the Vanderbilt Department of Pediatrics, Dr. Amos Christie.  We decided that posing in front of the “Round Wing” at Vanderbilt Hospital would be an appropriate place, and in some ways a little anarchistic. However, what was not planned was the reaction of the police that provided security at the hospital.

In 1970, when a group of students, some wearing headbands and ragged clothes, gathered in front of a building, all bets were off. The initial officer on the scene rapidly called for back-up. Dr. Christie did his best to explain that we were only there for a photo opportunity, and that we really didn’t want to occupy the hospital or break anything, and after an extended conversation, it was agreed that we could take the picture and then vacate rapidly. By now a crowd of confused hospital workers, patients, and their families had gathered to watch from a distance.

I took the color photograph of the group that serves as the header for this website. On the far right wearing a red bandana is Bill Dow, our philosophical leader. Dr. Christie is perched on the motorcycle owned by Pat Maxwell, who is standing next to Bill. Just before that picture was taken, one of the community organizers, Charles Schiff, managed to climb on top of the small roof that covered the entrance where the picture was taken. He had with him a red and yellow canvas sign that had hung over every health fair done that summer. As he got onto the roof, he raised his fist, as much signifying his achievement in getting up there as to demonstrate our political stance, and everyone below did the same. The picture became the embodiment of what we hoped to represent…allowing everyday individuals to interact with the health care system.

The Appalachian Student Health Coalition in front of Vanderbilt Hospital, 1970. From the Richard Davidson Collection (#5613), Southern Historical Collection at UNC Chapel Hill.