Dr. H. Jack Geiger, who ran away to Harlem as an adolescent and emerged a lifelong civil rights activist, serving to to carry medical care and companies to impoverished areas and to start out two antiwar medical doctors teams that shared in Nobel Peace Prizes, died on Monday at his residence in Brooklyn. He was 95.
His demise was confirmed by David Shadrack Smith, his stepson.
Dr. Geiger was a number one proponent of “social medicine,” the concept that medical doctors ought to use their experience and ethical authority not simply to deal with sickness but in addition to vary the circumstances that made folks sick within the first place: poverty, starvation, discrimination, joblessness and lack of training.
“Jack redefined what it meant to be a physician,” mentioned Dr. Irwin Redlener, the founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and the co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund. He added, by electronic mail, “He felt it was our right and responsibility as doctors to ‘treat’ hunger, poverty and disparities in health care, as directly and openly as we treat pneumonia or appendicitis.”
The social order, not medical companies, determines well being, Dr. Geiger mentioned in “Out in the Rural,” a brief documentary movie made in 1970 concerning the first group well being heart in Mississippi. “I’ve never seen any use in what I call the Schweitzer bit,” he added, referring to the humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “which is the idea that you stand around in whatever circumstances laying hands on people in the traditional medical way, waiting until they’re sick, curing them and then sending them back unchanged into an environment that overwhelmingly determines that they’re going to get sick.”
In the Nineteen Sixties, Dr. Geiger was a co-founder, with Dr. Count Gibson, of group well being facilities in South Boston and in Mound Bayou, within the Mississippi Delta. They supplied desperately wanted well being care but in addition meals, sanitation, training, jobs and social companies — what Dr. Geiger known as “a road out” of poverty. The facilities impressed a nationwide community of clinics that now quantity greater than 1,300 and serve about 28 million low-income sufferers at greater than 9,000 websites.
“I don’t know if some of the Mississippi white power structure cares about dead Black babies or not,” Dr. Geiger mentioned within the movie, concerning the first heart in Mississippi. “But if they don’t, even they can’t afford to say so publicly. We have been able to enter and to do things under the general umbrella of health that would have been much harder to do if we’d said we were here for economic development or for social change per se.”
Dr. Geiger was a founding member of two advocacy teams, Physicians for Social Responsibility, which shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to finish the nuclear arms race, and Physicians for Human Rights, which shared the 1997 prize for working to ban land mines.
He rallied medical doctors within the Cold War period to talk out towards what he noticed as a fable being promoted by the federal government, that nuclear conflict might be survivable. On the opposite, he insisted, hospitals could be shortly overwhelmed, and even victims with treatable accidents would perish.
Drawing physicians out of the clinic and into the political fray “was a really signal event,” mentioned Dr. Robert Gould, a pathologist in San Francisco and president of the Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
In an electronic mail for this obituary despatched in 2012, Dr. Geiger mentioned he was pushed partly by an outrage over injustice.
“I’ve been angry,” he wrote, “seeing terribly burned children in Iraq after the first Gulf war, or interviewing torture victims in the West Bank, or listening to Newt Gingrich say ghetto kids should learn to be part-time janitors and clean toilets (in another country, they called that Bantu Education). So anger doesn’t vanish, but is replaced by a determination to do something.”
Home Was a Way Station
Herman J. Geiger was born on Nov. 11, 1925, in Manhattan. (It was unclear what the J. stood for, however he was principally known as Jack all through his life.) His father, Jacob, born in Vienna, was a doctor; his mom, Virginia (Loewenstein) Geiger, who got here from a village in central Germany, was a microbiologist. Both mother and father, who have been Jewish, had emigrated to the United States as kids. Mr. Geiger grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and their residence was usually a method station for family members fleeing the Nazis.
“The last to appear were some cousins from my mother’s birthplace, Kirtorf,” Dr. Geiger mentioned within the electronic mail. “When they got their visas to come to the U.S., they said, the Nazi authorities were furious. On the night before their departure, the authorities ordered all their neighbors to go out at twilight and stone their house. The neighbors all dutifully gathered — and threw loaves of bread instead.”
That story, Dr. Geiger mentioned, taught him to not stereotype.
He skipped so many grades within the metropolis’s public faculties that he graduated from Townsend Harris High School (then in Manhattan, now in Queens) at 14. Too younger to start out faculty, he discovered typing and shorthand and went to work as a replica boy for The New York Times. He additionally started hanging out at jazz joints, listening to Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. His mother and father have been usually beside themselves, ready up for him and generally even calling the bars to ask if “Jackie” was there.
Jack quickly ran away from residence and turned up, suitcase in hand, in Harlem’s Sugar Hill part on the doorstep of Canada Lee, a Black actor whom he had seen on Broadway and had gotten to know after speaking his method backstage. Mr. Lee, as soon as a teenage runaway himself, let younger Jack sleep on the sofa — after consulting along with his mother and father — and although Jack generally returned residence, he spent a lot of the subsequent 12 months in Harlem.
The 12 months was 1940, and Mr. Lee’s residence was a hub for writers, actors and musicians — Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Orson Welles, Paul Robeson, Billy Strayhorn, William Saroyan. The Black friends advised harrowing tales of racism, and Harlem was seething over the mistreatment of Black troops at navy bases within the South. Jack Geiger took all of it in.
In 1941, with a mortgage from Mr. Lee, he started learning on the University of Wisconsin. He labored nights at a newspaper, The Madison Capitol Times. Because Madison had a curfew for anybody below 18, he mentioned, “I am probably the only police reporter in history who had to get a special pass to be out at night.”
In 1943, after assembly James Farmer, the founding father of the Congress of Racial Equality, Mr. Geiger began a chapter of the group in Madison. It was the peak of World War II, and after turning 18 that 12 months he left college to enlist within the service provider marine, which he selected as a result of it was not racially segregated.
Rabble Rouser for Justice
Discharged in 1947, Dr. Geiger enrolled as a pre-med scholar on the University of Chicago. He found racial discrimination there — Black sufferers being excluded from sure hospitals, certified Black college students being rejected by the medical college. He fought the insurance policies for 3 years and in the end helped manage a 1,000-strong school and scholar protest strike — an exercise just about unprecedented in that period.
He paid a worth for his rabble-rousing. The American Medical Association wrote to medical faculties warning of his “extracurricular activities.” No college would take him. He had, in impact, been blackballed.
Dr. Geiger went again to journalism for the subsequent 5 years, as a science and medication editor for the International News Service (later a part of United Press International). It was, he mentioned, “a gorgeous education” that allow him learn journals, attend conferences, interview researchers and, considerably, meet deans whom he may foyer to let him into medical college. In 1954, at 29, he was admitted to what’s now Case Western Reserve University’s medical college in Cleveland.
During his final 12 months at Case Western, he traveled to South Africa and labored with two physicians who have been establishing a well being heart in an impoverished, disease-ridden area of the nation known as Pholela, which was then a Zulu reserve. A key to the middle’s success was that native folks — its personal sufferers — labored there and helped run it.
For 5 months Dr. Geiger took care of sufferers, visiting thatch huts and cattle kraals, assembly conventional healers and seeing the large enhancements — pit latrines, vegetable gardens, kids’s feeding applications — that the well being heart had delivered to the area.
“I learned a little Zulu, including the three oral clicks in that language, which always made me drool, to the hilarity of my African teachers,” he wrote in a chapter he contributed to the 2013 guide “Comrades in Health.”
Dr. Geiger’s time in Africa made him need a profession in worldwide well being. He educated in inside medication at Boston City Hospital and in epidemiology on the Harvard School of Public Health.
In the “freedom summer” of 1964, he traveled to Mississippi to assist take care of the civil rights employees who have been pouring into the Deep South to marketing campaign for voting rights. The subsequent 12 months, he organized medical take care of the individuals who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
“I took a long look around,” Dr. Geiger recalled of his first go to to Mississippi. He noticed circumstances very similar to these in South Africa: households dwelling in shacks with no clear consuming water, bathrooms or sewers; sky-high charges of malnutrition, sickness, toddler demise and illiteracy; few or no alternatives for residents to raised themselves and escape. He didn’t must journey to Africa to search out folks in bother, he realized.
A Clinic in Mound Bayou
Under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the conflict on poverty had begun, and the Office of Economic Opportunity had been created to pay for initiatives to assist the poor. Sponsored by Tufts University and armed with grants from the chance workplace, Dr. Geiger, Dr. Gibson, Dr. John Hatch and others arrange a well being heart in Mound Bayou, Miss., a poor, Black small city the place most individuals have been former cotton sharecroppers whose lifestyle had been worn out by mechanization.
The heart was a replica of the Pholela challenge. The clinic, which opened in 1967, handled the sick but in addition used its grant cash to dig wells and privies and arrange a library, farm cooperative, workplace of training, high-school equivalency program and different social companies.
The clinic “prescribed” meals for households with malnourished kids — to be bought from Black-owned groceries — and the payments have been paid out of the middle’s pharmacy price range.
The governor complained, and a federal official was despatched to Mound Bayou to scold Dr. Geiger for misusing pharmacy funds, which, the official mentioned, have been meant to cowl medicine to deal with illness.
“Yeah,” Dr. Geiger replied, “well, the last time I looked in my medical textbooks, they said the specific therapy for malnutrition was food.”
The official, he mentioned, “shut up and went back to Washington.”
Dr. Geiger helped discovered Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1961. The group argued that official predictions of the consequences of nuclear conflict minimized the variety of casualties and the extent of the destruction it might trigger. At the group’s public conferences, Dr. Geiger’s job was “the bombing run” — providing an in depth account of what a one-megaton nuclear bomb would do to town by which the assembly was being held.
He had a resonant voice and a crisp, forceful supply. His shows left audiences surprised, in line with a colleague within the group, Dr. Ira Helfand.
Dr. Geiger was a co-author of one of many first articles to take a look at the medical prices of nuclear conflict. The article, in The New England Journal of Medicine, predicted the destiny of Boston in a nuclear strike — 2 million useless, a half-million injured and fewer than 10,000 hospital beds left in your entire state of Massachusetts. Doctors should “explore a new area of preventive medicine, the prevention of thermonuclear war,” the article mentioned.
It was revealed in May 1962 — 5 months earlier than the Cuban missile disaster, which took the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict.
Dr. Geiger’s marriage in 1951 to Mary Battle, an administrator and government assistant in well being care, led to divorce in 1968. They had no kids. (Ms. Battle died in a automobile accident in 1977.) In 1982, he married Nicole Schupf, a neuroscientist, epidemiologist and professor at Columbia University.
In addition to his spouse and his stepson, Mr. Smith, Mr. Geiger is survived by two stepgrandsons. An older sister, Ruth Ann, a schoolteacher, died in 1986.
In 1978, Dr. Geiger grew to become a professor of group medication on the City University of New York Medical School at City College of New York.
In his remaining years, which have been marked by bladder most cancers, lung most cancers and blindness from glaucoma, he continued to put in writing guide chapters, articles and editorials and to provide talks.
To the tip he was an impassioned advocate for civil rights. In an essay revealed in 2016 by Physicians for Human Rights, he known as for extra motion to battle the lead-poisoning of the water provide in Flint, Mich., and to carry accountable the officers answerable for it.
With attribute bluntness, he ascribed the contamination to “a contemptuous disregard for the health of people of color, especially if they are poor.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.