Waldo L. Cain
Back Home Up Next

Waldo L. Cain


Grace and Harper Hospitals


Waldo L. Cain

Born in East Gadsden, Alabama on September 29, 1921, Dr. Waldo L. Cain migrated to Detroit at the age of thirteen to live with his older brothers and sisters. He graduated from Northern High School in 1939 and enrolled in Wayne University. He left Wayne after three years and enrolled in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his medical degree in 1945 and in 1951 completed an internship and general surgery residency there.

He returned to Detroit where he and his wife, Dr. Natalia Tanner-Cain, established private practices. In addition, after being board certified, Dr. Cain sought appointments at Grace and Harper Hospitals in 1953 and was instrumental in eliminating racial segregation barriers in the provision of quality health care in Detroit.

Having secured a staff appointment at Grace Hospital, Dr. Cain went into the Army for two years and returned to Grace in 1955. Early in his career there, he quietly organized and chaired a group of black physicians with the goal of eliminating racial segregation in the hospital, specifically where there was explicit discrimination against African Americans in patient admissions.

With evidence in hand, Dr. Cain's committee challenged the unwritten policies and demanded equitable change. The result was an official policy change, which discontinued the use of race as a factor in admission.

The same committee, which also documented the absence of black medical staff at both Grace and Harper Hospitals, was later instrumental in the Detroit Medical Society's successful petition of the Detroit City Council to halt funding on the proposed Detroit Medical Center expansion until the hospitals demonstrated active desegregation procedures in the early 1960s. This action resulted in the immediate hiring of four African American certified specialists at Harper Hospital.

Dr. Cain's appointment to the staff of Harper came as a result of the merger of Grace and Harper Hospitals in 1968. He was also on the staffs of several African American proprietary hospitals, including Burton Mercy, Kirwood General, Parkside, and Trinity Hospitals.

Dr. Cain is a Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is a member of the National Medical Association, the Detroit Medical Society, the Michigan State Medical Society, the Wayne County Medical Society, the Society of Military Surgeons, the American Society of Abdominal Surgeons, and the American College of Surgeons.

He is also a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a member of the Sigma Pi Phi Boule honor fraternity, and a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society.

Tape recorded interview;
Detroit, MI
11 June  1998
audio clip

(Individual African American physicians pressured the hospitals via civil rights groups, the Detroit Medical Society (an organization of African American physicians and the Detroit affiliate of the National Medical Society), and congressional representatives and forced the hospitals to begin to reform. The following excerpt from Dr. Cain further illuminates these efforts.)

In order to build the Medical Center, they had to condemn a lot of property, all around those hospitals down there, in the so-called medical corridor.

I: This is later, in the mid [19]60s?

R: Yes. In order to get [permission], they had to go to the City Council to get approval. We had one black councilman, Bill Patrick. We went to Bill Patrick and told him what the situation was regarding patient placement and intern resident training, and staff appointments, because at this time they still had no black staff at Harper. The City Council passed a resolution to the effect that no land would be condemned for building of the proposed medical center until the, "corridor hospitals" demonstrated some active evidence of desegregation in all areas. And that's what changed it.

I: Who was "we"?

R: Oh, Ethlene Crockett, Tom Batchelor, Bill Goins, Arthur Harris, Arthur Boddie, Melvin Fowler, Charles Wright. That's all I can think of now. How many is that? We probably had about eight or ten.

I But it was really a united effort.

R: Oh, yes, it was everybody. Everybody who was on the staff participated in this thing.

I: Everybody that was on the staff of Grace.

R: Yes, Grace participated in this, and the only reason they singled me out is because I was chairman of the committee. But anyway, they passed the resolution, overnight, and I mean literally overnight, we had four guys who became qualified to be on the staff at Harper, who'd had their applications in and been rejected years before. But overnight Harper...as a matter, of fact, Tom Flake told me that somebody brought his application down to him. Tom Flake had applied and was working down at Detroit Memorial Hospital and they brought the application down to him for him to reapply at Harper. Harper took one general surgeon, one OB/GYN, one pediatrician, and one intern, just like that. These guys who were all board certified and who had applied to Harper, maybe years or months before, and been rejected.

I: [I see.] So that was Tom Flake [MD]? And he was in [what specialty]?

R: He was a general surgeon. He's the father of one of my junior partners now. Tom Flake. Bill Gibson was the cardiologist, Jim Collins was the pediatrician, and Addison Prince was the obstetrician. Those four guys. They're all board certified in their disciplines, and they'd been rejected. All of a sudden, they all became qualified when the council passed that resolution. All of a sudden, Harper and Grace started taking black nursing students. Had none before that time.


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


Home ] Up ]

Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
Text and images may not be used without the permission of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project.