Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Image of Washington Sanitarium and Hospital, Takoma Park, Washington, D. C. from Boston Public Library via Flickr

Editorial: Lessons From Lucy Byard

Editorial by Terry Forde

That the legacy of Lucy Byard—who in 1943 was denied care from the Washington Sanitarium (now Washington Adventist Hospital) because she was African-American—would find such a generative expression in the successor to the hospital that failed to treat her is both appropriate and an indication of how her experience has shaped our history. Byard was sent to Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., which cared for black patients, where she died. This incident—which you will read about in this issue of the Visitor—forced our organization, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to confront the racism and prejudice that was present in our practice at that time.

Calvin Rock, former General Conference vice president, retired chair and president of Oakwood University (Ala.) and retired chair of what is now Loma Linda University Health (Calif.), has written eloquently about Lucy Byard in his book Protest and Progress. Perhaps no one is better qualified than Rock to state: “It was the Byard affair of late 1943 that served as the primary catalyst to bring about needed change in the church.”

We can now see how this tragic story shaped both Adventist health institutions and health ministries, as well as the church. Byard’s ill treatment at Washington Sanitarium—and the unfortunate response of church leadership to the incident—quickly became a matter for the entire Adventist community to confront. And many of the changes that it engendered continue to shape all our endeavors.

Adventist HealthCare’s mission statement could not be clearer: “We extend God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental and spiritual healing.” We are called to continue Jesus Christ’s life and ministry in extending the unconditional love and care of God. We believe every human being, no matter their condition, gender, race, nationality, social class or faith will be treated with respect and dignity. We commit to hold ourselves to the highest standards of speech and conduct toward all people with
whom we interact. It is precisely the kind of care that Lucy Byard sought and was denied. If she were to visit us today, she would be welcomed, treated with respect and dignity and given excellent care.

We have not allowed the tragic circumstances of that failed experience to define us; in fact, it is likely that our stewardship of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ has been shaped and nurtured by what has been learned from it.

At the Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center, now under construction in Silver Spring, Md., about a mile from the General Conference headquarters, work has already begun on a special place where Lucy Byard will be honored and recognized.

Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27, NIV). This is our calling. By God’s grace, we seek to fulfill it more fully each day.

Terry Forde has served as president and CEO of Adventist HealthCare
since April 2014.

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