By Clarene Mitchell
VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, Community Liaison
On a national level, only 8 percent of hospice users are African American. Yet, with the disproportionately higher African American mortality rates, many more could benefit from the end-of-life care. There are various reasons that contribute to the racial health disparity; some of which includes African Americans either not knowing enough about hospice and/or believing that it is only available to other populations. In contrast to this, there are many prominent and accomplished African Americans who have benefited from hospice care as they transitioned into death. Here is a partial listing that includes a brief description of the individual’s footnotes in Black history:
- Ernest O. Brown (1928- 2009) Died of heart failure in a hospice. He was a Baltimore surgeon; one of first African Americans to graduate from the University of Maryland Medical School.
- Johnnie Cochran (1957- 2005) He died at his home with family by his side, he had received hospice care. Cochran had suffered from an inoperable brain tumor. Cochran was a well-known attorney due to his high profile celebrity cases and clientele. His motto was, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- George William Crockett, Jr. (1909-1997) Died of complications from cancer and a stroke in a Washington DC hospice. He was a U.S. Representative from Michigan, an attorney, jurist and National Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. He also co-founded what is believed to be the first racially integrated law firm in the United Sates.
- Wayland Carr Fuller (1916- 2008) Died in a hospice. Believed to be the first African American pharmacist in San Francisco.
- Gladys Hernblad (2009, 77 years) Died of heart failure in a hospice. Noted advocate for racial understanding and author.
- Albert E. Hinds (1902-2006) He died at home at the age of 104 years. Lauded for is chronicling the history of Princeton, New Jersey’s African American community. His daughter noted that hospice care allowed him to maintain his signature independence.
- Charles E. Lomax (1924- 2009) Died at a hospice in Boca Raton, Florida from pancreatic cancer. He was the first African American to become a partner at the powerhouse law firm of Sidley & Austin; the most prestigious law firm in Chicago. This accomplishment helped to pave the way for future Sidley & Austin lawyers like Michelle and Barack Obama. Lomax also served as counsel for legendary boxing promoter Don King and he was one of the first African American attorneys hired by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
- Charles Norman Mills (1920-2009) Died at a hospice in Pembroke Pines, Florida. He was an accomplished artist who was noted for his canvas art and neighborhood wall murals that focused on events in African American history and culture. He also designed and illustrated medical books for twenty years.
- Hale Smith (1925-2009) He spent the last month of his life at home receiving hospice care; cause of death was due to complications of a stroke. Smith was an African American composer, pianist and professor.
- August Wilson (1945-2005) It is not known if he received hospice care specifically. But when his doctors found that his liver cancer had progressed to such a stage that treatment would be in vain, Wilson was then told that he had three to five months to live. Wilson stated, “It’s not like poker, you can’t throw your hand in. I’ve lived a blessed life. I’m ready.” He was an accomplished playwright who chronicled the Black experience in 20th-century America
(Sources: The Baltimore Sun June 17, 2009; CNN.com March 29, 2005; Jet Magazine September 22, 1997; San Francisco Chronicle May 9, 2008; Philadelphia News August 3, 2009; Town Topics June 07, 2006; Chicago Tribune September 25, 2009; The Miami Herald October 24, 2009; AfriClassical. com; and blackvoicesnews. com October 7, 2005)