In collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Archives at St. Louis played a pivotal role in the centennial celebration of the Tuskegee VA Hospital, highlighting the contributions of Dr. Joseph Ward, a distinguished Black physician and veteran, to American history and medical advancement.

Dr. Joseph Ward, a World War I veteran and the first Black medical officer to lead the all-Black medical staff at Tuskegee VA Hospital, was posthumously recognised during the event. His leadership and advocacy in the early 20th century set a precedent for equality and excellence in patient care within the VA system. Dr. Ward’s tenure at Tuskegee and his efforts in founding a medical school in Indiana for training Black women in nursing exemplify his dedication to advancing healthcare for minorities.

The centennial celebration also addressed a darker chapter in Dr. Ward’s career—his controversial dismissal in 1936 on charges of mismanaging government funds, a decision now viewed through the lens of racial prejudice. The National Archives at St. Louis unearthed Dr. Ward’s Official Personnel Folder (OPF), which provided critical insights into the allegations and the significant community support that contested his dismissal.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough emphasised the importance of revisiting Dr. Ward’s case to shed light on historical injustices and recognise his contributions. The VA’s investigation into Dr. Ward’s firing, aided by the detailed research of National Archives staff, sought to determine the legitimacy of the charges against him without the influence of preconceived notions.

As part of the centennial’s homage to Dr. Ward’s legacy, the VA inaugurated the Dr. Joseph Henry Ward Veterans Food Pantry in partnership with the Heart of Alabama Food Bank. Additionally, Dr. Ward was posthumously awarded the Secretary’s Exceptional Service Award, recognising his role as a federal employee and military service member. This award is now displayed at the Tuskegee VA Campus Museum.

The VA’s acknowledgment of Dr. Ward’s contributions and the rectification of his historical record were supported by the National Archives’ documentation and research. An email from a VA archivist lauded the impact of this work, stating, “Your article allowed Dr. Ward to become a person in a way that a briefing packet could never have done.”

The National Archives and the Department of Veterans Affairs have proudly recognised Dr. Joseph Ward’s legacy as a medical pioneer and a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

Image Source:

  • Dr Joseph Ward: The National Archives USA