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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This is later, in the mid 60s?
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
Who was "we"?
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.
But it was really a united effort.
Oh, yes, it was everybody. Everybody who was on
the staff participated in this thing.
Everybody that was on the staff of Grace.
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 see.] So that was Tom Flake [MD]? And he was
in [what specialty]?
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.