Join ADAMember Log In

Summary of ADA actions taken to open the path to racial, ethnic equality

Since its inception in 1859 and continuing through the Civil Rights era in American history, the American Dental Association and its membership reflected the racial segregation that existed in much of the U.S. at that time.

However, before the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA had begun to implement changes in policies that would eliminate discriminatory membership practices.

The following is a brief timeline of events from 1958-1966:

1958: The National Dental Association adopted a resolution requesting that the ADA "consider the sponsorship of resolutions urging constituent, component, and state societies having racially restrictive membership provisions to restudy these with a view towards eliminating them," according to "Profile of the Negro in American Dentistry" (1979). The ADA Board of Trustees received the resolution and launched a study.

1960: The ADA requested that constituent and component societies ensure that their bylaws contained no provisions which restricted membership on the basis of race, creed or color.

1962: In response to the 1958 NDA resolution and recognizing the ADA's Constitution, the ADA House of Delegates adopted a resolution easing the way for all qualified dentists to become members of the ADA and its component societies. The Constitution stated: "The object of the Association shall be to encourage the improvement of the health of the public and to promote the art and science of dentistry." Denial of membership "to qualified dentists on the basis of race, creed or color aborts the object of the Association, because such discriminatory policies impede the professional growth of all dentists and, therefore, work to the detriment of public welfare," states a 1962 Journal of the American Dental Association editorial, "Membership of Negroes in the American Dental Association."

Until 1962, the only sanction the ADA could impose on a constituent society that violated the ADA Constitution or Bylaws was suspension or revocation of its charter. That year the House passed an amendment to the Bylaws giving the House the power by a two-thirds majority to suspend the representation of a constituent society in the House upon a determination by the House that the bylaws of the society violated the ADA's Constitution or Bylaws. This action gave the ADA the right to refuse to seat delegates of any society whose bylaws conflicted with the ADA national organization.

1963: Representatives of 13 constituent societies, their ADA trustees and Association officials met in New Orleans to discuss membership practices. According to "Elimination of Discriminatory Membership Practices" published in JADA (March 1966), "this meeting, held in an atmosphere of cordiality and cooperation, provided a beginning for much of the progress that has been made toward the elimination of membership practices which are in violation of Association Bylaws."

1964: The landmark Civil Rights Act was passed outlawing segregation in schools, public places and employment. Title VI of the Act states that "no person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

That same year, the ADA "Board of Trustees established the Committee on Liaison with the National Dental Association so that official representatives of Negro dentists would have, as long as they feel it is necessary, a permanent and official avenue of approach to the ADA," according to "Elimination of Discriminatory Membership Practices."

1965: The ADA Board of Trustees advised the House of Delegates that a complaint alleging noncompliance with the Civil Rights Act had been filed against the ADA and some of its constituent and component societies with the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. "The complaint charged that some state and local dental societies kept Negro dentists from becoming ADA members," states "News of Dentistry" in JADA (March 1966).

That year, the House of Delegates adopted two resolutions that called for state and local societies to eliminate any discriminatory membership practices that may exist. In Resolutions 38-1965-H and 39-1965-H, the House also directed constituent and component societies to report periodically to the Board of Trustees on the steps taken to eliminate discriminatory practices and procedures.

1966: HEW notified the ADA that the Association's actions the previous year satisfied HEW; current circumstances did not warrant going beyond voluntary negotiations. By that year, all constituent and component societies were able to comply with the Civil Rights Act. Since then, it has not been demonstrated that any dentist has been denied membership in any ADA constituent or component society based on race, creed or gender.