Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best July 21, 1999

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANDREW BEST July 21, 1999 Inteviewer: Ruth Moskop Trancribed by: Sabrina Coburn 20 Total Pages Copyight 2000 by East Carolina University. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from East Carolina University.

RM: Good morning.

AB: Good morning.

RM: It's July 21st, 1999. I'm here to record an interview with Dr. Andrew Best. My name is Ruth Moskop. Dr. Best, do I have your permission to record this interview?

AB: Yes, you do.

RM: Thank-you so much.

AB: You're quite welcome.

RM: We were having a little chat about the Old North State Medical Society. Can you fill us in about that organization?

AB: Yes. The Old North State Medical Society was founded many, many years ago. I don't remember. I could go back into my records and supply you with the year of its organization. But, as an organization of minority physicians, it has led in the fight to keep minority physicians abreast of the times and has contributed greatly to a better brand of healthcare delivery for the minority population. Of course, I might add from the outset that we of the Old North State, the minority physicians, have always practiced medicine and delivered healthcare to people even in the old segregated days. A number of us had white patients. For example, the late Dr. Quigless had a whole lot of white patients who voluntarily sought his services. The ate Dr. Joe Dudley Weaver of Ahoskie had a practice that was heavily white. Ther were many other doctors throughout the state, even before I came along in the history of the Old North State. The Old North State was founded and existed as an organization for minority physicians mainly because during the days of segregation, we could not become members of the North Carolina Medical Society. Sometime during the sixties, they offered to the minority physicians a kind of scientific membership. That would be to say that they could be scientific "members" who had the authority to attend all scientific sessions, but they could not participate in the social affairs. For example, if my wife accompanied me to Pineurst, which was usually the place of their annual meetings, Pinehurst Southern Pines, I might go to the scientific session, but when it came to a luncheon or a dinner or a dance, we would have to part ways and go looking for recreation elsewhere. The organization turned down that so-called invitation to scientific membership as a body, but it left open the decision to individual members as to whether they would accept that scientific membership or not. Well, we had two of our members, the late Dr. Emery Ran of Charlotte, North Carolina and the late Dr. Joe Gordon, a radiologist in Winston-Salem. They acceted a scientific membership and appeared at the annual meeting of the North Caroina Medical Society down in Pinehurst. There was some consternation among the Old North State membership that two of its members would break the solidarity, so to speak, and not accept it. Well, being one of the younger members then of the Old North State, which we younger doctors were supposed to be seen more than heard when it came to discussing the weighted matters. I spoke up and defended my friends, Dr. Emery Ran, who was a family practitioner and Dr. Gordon who was a radiologist out of Winston-Salem. I defended the action as one hat was based on a personal decision. About three years later, they opened it up ad gave us an unrestricted membership from the get go. I had suggested that Dr. Ran and Dr. Gordon might be pioneers to ease the process to full membership. Rather than being a hindrance, shall I say breaking the solidarity and... (06:02)

RM: That being a negative?

AB: That might just be a step in the right direction to ease the process forward. Noboy, to me, negated the points of my argument. So, it went on, and when it came around that they offered a full membership, that was a matter of fact. There was some talk among the people of the North Carolina Medical Society suggested that the Old North State should just fold up its tents. But, our position was that there was a need for the Old North State and that the Old North State, in terms of healthcare delivery to minorities and as a group of doctors providing this care, faced problems that were not really on the agenda of the North Carolina Medical Society to even explore, support, or find solutions.

RM: Can you give me some examples of those kinds of issues? (7:26)

AB: Well, the issues of concern and compassion for the indigent. See, we served a part of the population that were, percentage wise, more indigent than our white counterparts. In our organizational meetings, we pointed this out, and we preached the philosophy of compassion and rendering service without regard to ability to pay. Issues like that had no place on the agenda of the white medical society. In other words, we had problems that were peculiar to us. Another problem was where the uneducated, the ignorant, or the inexperienced indigent person, you had to devise a means of educating that person or that person's family to let them know what facilities, programs, and projects were available. See it's an eucation process where we had to be more outreach-minded. The minority physcian in many instances, utilized the black church in terms of its educational mean. Its highways, roadways, or pathways are what I was searching for to get information out there to the populous to say that these projects and programs are available. The minority physician would make his rounds to the various churches and make the announcements as to what is available that the Health Department offered; for example, certain immunization programs. It is important to get that child vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough, and polio. These were the things that we were able, in terms of the Old North State, to do best. The unanimous opinion was that until the day came that all of medicine was totally devoid of prejudices and decisions based on prejudices, color, or race, the Old North State would have reason to be. As the French would say, "raison d'etre." That's the reason. When the fact came for the ECU Medical School, the Old North State was in the forefront of supporting the concept of another degree granted medical school. (11:21)

RM: What time was that when the concept started to be supported? I know it was the early 70s. The powers that made political elite started discussing it. But at what time do you think the actual push began? When did key concerned physicians like those in the Old North State sort of ...?

AB: It was at our annual meeting in June of 1972 at the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel in Raleigh that a resolution was introduced at our annual meeting supporting the concept of another degree-granting medical school. (12:07)

RM: Had someone introduced that concept outside of the Old North State at that point?

AB: Now, there had been some talk of it. Of course, Dr. Jenkins had pushed. At one time we had a two-year medical school here, mainly through the efforts of Dr. Jenkns. The graduates of our two-year program were accepted at UNC in Chapel Hill for their final two years. Then the push went on through the efforts of Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Ferguson of Plymouth and some of the other eastern physicians or the physicians of the eastern block and Dr. Ed Monroe, who you've heard me mention. The push came on for a four-year degree-granted medical school. (13:04)

RM: When did you join the Old North State Medical Society?

AB: I joined the Old North State Medical Society in 1954. When I came to Greenville and started this office, my next move was to become affiliated. So, I made my first meeting at the annual meeting of the Old North State in 1954.

RM: You just mentioned that you were just at a meeting over July 4th.

AB: Yeah. I have not missed a single annual meeting since then, since 1954. That would suggest, since I am in my 46th year of practice.. .I've been here 45 years, 6 months, and 21 days. I have an unbroken string of annual meetings of the Old North State in 45 years.

RM: Have you participated in an administrative capacity? (14:12)

AB: Yes. I have been an officer in the Old North State. I have held many positions, the secretary and then the executive committee, shared the award's committee for about the last ten years. At the last meeting, I served notice that I was going to pass that mantle on to a younger physician. So, you can understand then that the Old North State, even after we were considered for membership in the North Carolina Medical Society, most of us practicing physicians joined the Medical Society, the state of North Carolina, so we had two memberships to pay each year That was part of the argument of our white counterparts that there was no need for you to have two memberships. You can be a member of the Medical Society, the state of North Carolina, and at the same time, the Medical Society of North Carolina, being a subsidiary of the AMA, the American Medical Society. I was a member of the local Pitt County Medical Society, which was a constituent of the North Carolina Medical Society, which was a constituent of the AMA. On the minority side, I was a member of the Eastern Medical and Dental, which was a costituent of the Old North State, a member of the Old North State, and a membr of the National Medical Society, the NMA. So, here I am paying two memberships from the local to the national levels in each one but now, some... (16:30)

RM: But you feel like it has been worthwhile?

AB: Yes. It has been worthwhile for me as a minority physician primarily practicing the healthcare delivery to the minority segment, even though I've had an integrated practice from day one.

RM: I should think it would be a good support group as well.

AB: Yeah.

RM: Like you said you could discuss issues that are important to your particular practices.

AB: That is true. Now, when this tragedy with this scam against doctors, the Old Nort State was very supportive of my case.

RM: Was this 1975? (17:18)

AB: Yeah. 1975, very supportive of my case. Somewhere in my memoirs, I will make reference to the fact that Dr. Charles Johnson, who is now a retired professor at Duke, Dr. Joy Denim, Dr. Joe Weaver, and there were other doctors who supported my case. They gave me moral support as well as financial support, which was very important.

RM: Crucial.

AB: Because there were days that I would wake up with the weight of this case so heavily around my neck and shoulders, for a week or so, I might have gone down to the Tar River and taken refuge by jumping off the bridge. The likes of Dr. Johnson and Dr. Denim and others on the national front...there were Dr. Lionel Swine of Detroit, Michigan, who was Speaker of the House of Delegates at that time. He gave me invaluable support on the national level. So, it was very easy for me to see the value. (18:49)

RM: It's interesting that, you referred to what happened to you in a court case in 1975 as a tragedy. I know that court cases are a very stressful experience for anybody involved in one and you certainly had to take yours to the state Supreme Court to get it settled.

AB: That's right, to settle.

RM: Once it was settled, it was settled clearly.

AB: Clearly.

RM: The vote was seven to nothing in your favor, as I recall.

AB: That's true.

RM: Why do you still consider it a tragedy? You refer to it as a tragedy.

AB: Well, it was a very tragic event in my life, which I had the feeling that it was unnecessary. It was undeserved and it was very troublesome to me. It affected me as a personality. Certainly, it destroyed all of my hopes of having a nest egg for retirement. That particular case.

RM: Do you have any idea how much it cost you personally? How much came out of your pocket? (20:03)

AB: Well, fortunately my friends came to help me, but with lawyer's fees going on...

RM: What was the total cost?

AB: We are looking at $200,000. Now, that does not take into account the money that I lot while out fighting for my professional life.

RM: Didn't you tell me that Dr. Minges posted bail for you? (20:40)

AB: Yeah. Dr. Ray Minges. As a personal friend, he was a big help to me financially. If Ihad a lawyer's bill corning up, and those lawyers don't know how to talk in figures except in thousands. But if I would get a phone call, I would pick up the phon, the lady would say it's a lawyer, or he wants to speak with you and he woul say, "Dr. Best, how are you doing today?" He would always be upbeat. I would say, "I'm hanging in." "Well, I just called you to chit chat with you a minute or two. We need a payment." "Well, how much do you think you need?" He said, "I guess we can exist for around $10,000 for right now." I have to get him up a check for $10,000. Now needless to say, it was not every time that he asked for a payment that I had the $10,000. I had to resort to friends like Ray Minges and like some fellow friends and acquaintances from Lenoir County and Kinston or even outside of the state, I had a few people that I could call on. You know, some of those people who supported my defense then, not all of them, but a few of those folks like my older brother, I really still owe him money. Money thathe has contributed that he has never hounded me to pay it back. He said, "Well, one of these days, you'11 get a chance to pay it back or, if I die, just have it in your will that you owe it to my wife." In other words, people who contributed large sums of money for my professional welfare, you see. That's why those thoughts, as I reflect over them, those thoughts are very haunting. (23:21)

RM: Surely.

AB: I'll go out to the mall and somebody sees me and speaks me, "Hello, Dr. Best. I haven't seen you in the last five years. Have you retired yet?" Three or four times a week, I'll get, "Haven't you retired yet?" "No, I'm tired, but not retired. I'm not able yet to put there- in front of the tired." I would pass it up as a joke, but it is...

RM: It's very real.

AB: It's very real. We have to keep pushing on. Now, just suppose that I had estimated what I had loss...I'm talking about what I lost in income myself. Suppose I had $350,000 out there on the stock market somewhere drawing interest.

RM: Wouldn't that be nice these days? (24:22)

AB: Yeah. See, I could afford to say, "Well, I'll go to the office two hours on Monday, no hours on Tuesday, no hours on Wednesday, one hour on Thursday, and do some of the other things that I would love to do.

RM: Well, tell me, it must have had an impact on other things, too. That's the physical impact, really, the financial disaster of the court case. What about the effect on your reputation as a physician? Did you feel any ...?

AB: Well that was more of a temporary, passing in the night. There were several factors, which made it temporary. One, my case became a landmark case. Now out of the twenty doctors who were caught up in this scam, there's one doctor in Charlotte who was the first to go to trial. I don't remember his name, but he had a hung jury. The jury deadlocked on conviction. There was a case in Greensboro, who as a white physician. The jury just refused to convict him. Of course, there were some things that were happening to me that I communicated with my counterpart up in Greensboro, and we had some discussion. We met over at the Medical Society down in Pinehurst and there were some suggestions that I could pass onto him that would help him. So, he was not convicted and he was found not guilty. (26:15)

RM: Right at the lowest court level.

AB: Yeah. At the lowest court level, so that was all right. Now come to me, I was the third case and my case became the landmark case. There were some things in the passage of affairs or the order of events that contributed, I think, to my being found guilty to begin with. I never should have been found guilty at the lower court level. The first ten people selected for my jury had an eighth grade or less education and you talking about trying a doctor with all of those medical and professional terms to a jury of that nature. It's unthinkable when it comes to common sense, but this is what they did. Those first ten people had no previous jury experience, none whatsoever. The last two, jurors number eleven and twelve were white females. One had finished college and had a college degree. The othe had had two years at Pitt Community. Both of them had previous jury experience. Those two...This is information coming after the fact. Those two manipulated the jury and they even threatened this one young man, a black guy from out to Bell's Fork on 43. His story was that when some ofthe people in the black community, a person who knew the young man, he said, "Now, why in the world would you to agree to a guilty verdict for Dr. Best?" He said, "Well, that lady, who was the foreman, said, she told me that if we didn't come to some kind of conclusion, we were going to be there all night. I was hungry and I wanted to get home and have our supper." That completely destroyed me and this kind of thing. Another after juror's statement was that the foremen told them said, "Well now, we have to find him guilty of something and if you all don't agree for us to find him guilty on two counts..." There was so-called six counts and the two counts that they found me guilty on, was for the counts that involved with allowing a refill on a prescription. Now, they found me not guilty of the original prescription, but they turn around and find me guilty of the refills. When very clearly, one of the Supreme Court Justices got the case, very clearly, here was a person who got prescriptions for 18 Ritalin, one twice a day, and she showed back up in 25 days after the first refill. No indicators at all that the drug was being misued, not to me, not so far as the time was concerned. So, that was pointed out at the Supreme Court hearing, but the local jury found me guilty. It had to be a case...I think there were two things, which were prevalent. One, are the ignoance and the inexperience of my jury, which we didn't know. Now, if I had known then what I know now, my lawyer would have insisted that they draw a different jury panel. But anyway, that went on. Now, the other thing that I believe, which I can't prove, is that these two white ladies were somewhat prejudice in their minds or may have had a little push from the solicitor now. Thisis something you can't prove, but may have had a little push. That goes back to hr remark, "Well, we have to find him guilty of something." That suggests some... (31:05)

RM: The lady who was the foreman of the jury.

AB: Yeah. The lady who was the foreman. That suggests that she must have been motivated or pushed in some way. Now, another piece of that puzzle goes back to the fact that we had discussed that a representative of the DA's office...I didn't know this until two years later. He found out that one of my white patients was in jail. He was in jail for breaking and entering, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He counted up and when he wnt down and talked to him and recited what his charges were, and said, "We havecharges that if you are found guilty that can mount to 30 years in prison, but we will dismiss all of those charges if you will testify against Dr. Best." He said, "Well, I know of nothing to talk about against Dr. Best." He said, "You are his patient, aren't you?" And even that suggested that he could make up a tale that says that I had done something wrong for him in order to escape that 30 years hanging over his head. He started to leave and this man said, "Well, come to think of it, I do know something I can say." The guy turned around and was all interested then. He said, "I can say he is a damn good doctor." So with that, the representative of the solicitor's office went on out. The point is that there were some very concerted efforts to be sure to get me convicted. (33:03)

RM: Isn't that wonderful, in spite of all he was up against, all of his crimes, and he was able to say that, that bit of honesty.

AB: Yeah. That's one of the things that I was going to discuss. That within itself was one of the most distressing and depressing things to come to me as an afterthought in reflecting.

RM: And you found out all of this later.

AB: In other words, after the storm is over. After the hurricane is over and then I begin to look back to pick up the pieces and say, "Here's what happened and try to explain this or that or the other."

RM: How much time elapsed from the time the officers came to your office and took you out down to the courthouse and the time when the Supreme Court dissolved your case? How many months?

AB: That took almost two years. (34:02)

RM: I'm surprised you have any stomach left.

AB: During that time, you see, it had to go through the Court of Appeals and the way the Court of Appeals handled it was with a three-judge panel. It was decided earl on there was a lot of pressure bought against the system or administrations for the whole thing, the validity of this scam against doctors...

RM: Of this investigation.

AB: Of this investigation by SBI. The SBI agents or committee had written up a proposal to get some federal money to work on this so-called "drug problem." They came up with a dream that the drug problem had its origin with physicians and the doctor's offices. They hatched this plan to go into the doctor's offices on this scam. They come in to try to get me to prescribe something that was more or less a stimulant and then again, if they say they got nervous from the stimulant, they would ask for a prescription to get a tranquilizer. The uppers and the downers is what they called it. With all of that, they went on, but still because of my statewide reputation as being honest, hardworking, compassionate person, involved in the field of education. I spent 8 1/2 years as a member of the Trustee Boar at A&T. I spent a year on the Board of Governors for higher education and at tat moment, I was a member of East Carolina's Trustee Board. So, my fame throughout the state as a person ...There was a lot of questions being raised. Everyday almost, you would see letters to the Public Forum about what's happening with Dr. Best and this and that and the other? People who I never even knew before, Dr. Graham Weathers from up in Stanley, North Carolina... He had over a course of several months; he had three or four letters in there talking about the tactics used in this case and what was happening to me. So, when it got to the Appeal's Court, I am told from a member of the Appeal's Court, which was a friend of mine, and he told me that he would have had to decline from participating in my case because he had a personal relationship. Every scrap of paper that came into that office with my name on it, he was... (37:28)

RM: On top of it?

AB: Yeah. Surveying. He told me six weeks before that Appeal's Court decision came down exactly what was going to happen. He said, "Now, there's a lot of heat being brought to it. We are getting letters about you that you don't even know about. There's a lot of heat. So, those three judges, two are going to vote to uphold the lower court and one is going to descend and that will put this case on automatic track to the Supreme Court. You don't have to appeal to the Suprme Court. It will automatically go to the Supreme Court when the Appeal's Cour divides on what's happening." He told me, "I'm going to tell you the name Andrew Best is a hot potato now in the state of North Carolina." I said, "Well, I wish it was a little cooler." So, we passed it off. But, I knew ...and then when he said, "Now, when it goes to the Supreme Court..." I said, "What do you think my chances are?" At that time, Dr. I. Beverly Lake, who was probably the most racit person in North Carolina, in this whole century, he was on the Supreme Cour. My friends suggested that, "Well, we are looking probably for a six to one verdict or a five to two. Now, we expected Dr. Lake maybe to go against us and he may have one sympathizer whose going to go against us. In the least scenario, we wll come out of the Supreme Court with a five to two verdict. By a stretch of the imagination, we might get a six to one or seven to nothing." We came out with a seven to nothing. See during all of this particular time, from '75 up to the rendering of that verdict in April of '77, I'm under a shadow. (40:07)

RM: How did that affect your physician-patient relationships?

AB: People still came. The beautiful thing about it was the people didn't believe it and the attitude out there in the overall public was, "Here's a man being persecuted." That worked in my favor so far as patient and public relations are concerned.

RM: When the verdict was reached and when the case was finally decided and resolved, then something happened to the other cases that were pending.

AB: Now, that's why it was a landmark case. All of the other cases...See, prior to the Supreme Court's written decision, they made several points. One was that the law, the regulation that they used as a basis for permission to do this scam was a regulation that was intended for street vendors. It did not apply to prescription writing in the first place. Then, the question, interpretation of some of the things that the prosecutors wanted to pull, they tried to paint a picture that I was down here doing a lot of illegal things trying to get rich. The judge, Naomi Morris, who was sitting on that Supreme Court, Judge Morris or Judge Susie Sharp, or one of the two. Anyway...(42:07)

RM: Morris or who?

AB: Susie Sharp was the first lady on the Supreme Court. I believe it was the lady who came after her, Judge Naomi Morris. I think. Anyway, whoever the lady was on the Supreme Court in '77 is the one. She raised the question to those agents who came in. I had a visit with Mike Bolus. I had two visits by a lady of M. T. Owens, and I had one visit each by two fellows. That was a total of five visits. She asked what the total office charge was. It was only $35, five times seven. She made the observation that doesn't sound like somebody is trying to get rich to me and so, that got thrown out of the window. They ended up totally exonerating me and after that exoneration, all of those other cases that hadn't gone to trial, plus the one that had a hung jury up in Charlotte, they had to be dismssed. Of course, one of the observations in my afterthought would be that, if I ha been the one of the doctors as the beneficiary of a doctor who persisted and proceded to get have a landmark case, get all of the charges dismissed, I would have been the first person to write him a letter, at least a letter. I would thank you for your persistence. I never heard from one of the other doctors. There was a doctor here in Greenville, Dr. Dawson, who was charged. Dr. Dawson never picked up the phone and called to say, "Andy, I appreciate the outcome of your case." (44:22)

RM: He hadn't come to court yet, I guess.

AB: Well his case, it was several weeks after they rendered that decision that the local solicitor came to...Well, all of the cases throughout the state were being dismissed and they had to be because of the Supreme Court ruling in my case. I knew the lawyer who was supposed to be Dr. Dawson's lawyer. I called him up and said, "Hey look, what are you going to do with my friend Bill Dawson." He said, "Well Dr. Best, they are going to have to dismiss it." I said, "Well, good." Bill didn't say anything himself. That's what happened. They had to dismiss all of those other cases, which I am glad they did. I still thought that maybe some, one or two of those guys should have called or sent a letter or something.(45:26)

RM: At least a congratulations. (Side 1 Ends)

AB: And be thankful to the man upstairs for corning out of that, but it could have been really...

RM: I'm wondering if it would make sense, it probably wouldn't hurt to review the Daily Reflector and maybe The News and Observer over that two year period to find articles about that.

AB: Articles about it. Probably would.

RM: It would be useful to have.

AB: Now, I had some thoughts. I guess this would be a good time to go on to this. As an afterthought in reviewing the whole case in my mind, after the storm so to speak, and to point out or to reflect over some of the most distressing and most depressing experiences like the one where this guy went to the jail to try to get somebody to...Another one... (01:02)

RM: To testify against you.

AB: Testify against me and knowing he would be testifying falsely. Suggestively, he is my patient and to testify falsely. The fact that this lady juror said, "Well, we have to find him guilty of something," and the fact that the SBI tried, of every doctor from Wilson back to the east coast, tried hard to find a doctor who would testify against me. They met up with a whole lot who said, "No, I'm going to testify for Dr. Best." He found one guy down in Windsor who agreed to testify against me. Eddie Bond, he was the only one that they could find who would testify against me and to me, he didn't give any valid evidence in the testimony that anybody should have paid any attention to. That's an afterthought. Then, when I looked at the quality of my jurors, uneducated and inexperienced. Constantly, the special prosecutor out of the Attorney General's office saying, "I'll give you a hypothetical." Not a single one of those first ten jurors, they wouln't know what a hypothetical was if one came walking and sashaying across the courtroom. (03:00)

RM: Of course not.

AB: This kind of thing, it distressed me. Now, this thing happened under the watch of Attorney General Rufus Edmondson. It was really rewarding for me years later when Mr. Edmondson was running for governor and he was seeking me to support him in his bid for governor. One of his supporters was a friend of mine who an the prison system up here on 43. Mr. Burnett, my friend, arranged for the Attoney General to meet with me. What was scheduled to be a 15 minute meeting turned out to be an hour and 45 minutes and he came in this office and sat on that sofa. I reminded him of a statement. Well, in the course of conversation, he said, "Well, I wanted to come by and get you to support me as candidate for governor. You know I am running for governor." I said, "Sir, I know." I said, "Look, here we are face to face. Listen. I am undecided now and I don't know whether I can support you or not." He said, "Well, what's the matter?" I said, "Now, as Attorney General when I was in that mess back in '75, you didn't lift a finger. Some of your henchmen from the SBI had hatched up a schee and carried it before the Executive Committee of the Medical Society and theydidn't know any better. They led them to believe that they had the legal commitment and the legal authority, as well as all of the other things that go along with it, to hatch up this scheme in the first place." Mr. Edmondsten entered a period of denial. Well, he didn't know what was happening. Well, before then when he was running for Attorney General, he had written a piece in The News and Observer, which talked about when people tried to say something against him at that level and he called it "actions political espionage". I quoted him in saying that. I said, "Now you said that a complete disregard for principles upon which this nation is founded." So, I said, "You also called it the most stupid, unlawful, ridiculous, and petty thing that grown men could dream of doing. You also talked about the fact that the Attorney General didn't notice some things that were happening. You finally said that a person in that position should have known whathis subordinates were doing. Now, if the boys at the SBI were doing wrong, you should have known about it." Oh, I preached him a sermon that he had never heard before. He said, "Well, if you felt that you were wrong and I'm not going to sy that you weren't wrong, I apologize for that, but really, I didn't know." He was still hiding behind the veil of ignorance on his part as we were going on. I watched his face and I said, "But Mr. Attorney General, if you didn't know, you should have known. Those are your own words." So, he couldn't escape that. That, to me, was one of the most satisfying experiences out of this whole thing. To come face to face and to be able to outline and document what he had said. Everything that he had said about this political espionage and petty, that applied to wat had been done to me. So, I got a great kick out of that. (08:18)

RM: Some conciliation.

AB: Some conciliation.

RM: For that moment.

AB: For that moment. What I couldn't tell him was that I was sure that he was not telling me the truth, because there's a black guy...He is the first black Assistant to an Attorney General in the history of the state. He was Conrad 0. Pearson. He was one of the first black lawyers to get licensed to practice in North Carolina. He hd a successful practice in Durham and in his waning years, he got attached on a Assistant to the Attorney General. Mr. Pearson had sent Mr. Edmondsten a letter, supposed to be a confidential letter on my case on his personal investigations about it and what his findings and conclusions were. Somehow or nothing Mr. Edmondson had ignored all of that. So, I'm saying that the only reason in my mind, which I couldn't tell him. Attorney Pearson had sent me a blind copy of his letter to the Attorney General. (10:00)

RM: You stopped short of pulling out your copy and showing it to him.

AB: Yeah. I stopped short of that. I felt like that I couldn't have done that. Mr. Pearon is dead now.

RM: That would be interfering with the confidence with Mr. Pearson.

AB: Yeah. Now, if it had been since his death, I would have said, "Wait a minute Mr. Edmodson, let me get something." I would go back in my file. I said, "Now, read this letter and see if you recall ever having seen it." Now, realizing that a lot of stuff ...I would give him the credit that a lot of stuff goes across his desk that he never sees or never focuses on. A lot of things come across my little desk now thatif it is in the domain for Doris to handle, she goes ahead and handles it. She'll say, "Dr. Best, such and such thing carne in and I responded." I say, "Fine." Many times, somebody will call me and I say, "I don't quite remember, but let me check with my girl. Doris, what about so and so? Did you talk to her?" She said, "Yeah. I talked to her." She would bring me up to date on the information. That was the day that I called, the day that he came in here, and I was able in a very friendly, but in a very positive way say to him, "Mr. Attorney General, there is something lacking," and use his words to bat him down with, and that was my shining hour. (11:50)

RM: Well, I don't know. I don't think that is the best thing you have ever done Dr. Best but I can understand how that can be gratifying.

AB: That was very gratifying to me. Now, a couple of things that I'm reemphasizing that were very gratifying to me was first of all, the support of my church. When my bishop being the Bishop Herbert B. Shaw, who always took me as one of his sons. He is a very kindly gentleman, who...Bishop Shaw had the way of inspiring people. You worked for Bishop Shaw; you would work your fingers to the ones, because you loved the way that he operated. You loved the way that he showed his care for people and you respected his thoughts. You never found him to get excited and never talked down to anybody. When you are in the position of bishop in the AME Zion Church, there are pastors out there under your supevision who will try your soul. They'll do things wrong, but where as some bishps would get down on a guy and embarrass him in front of the whole congregation and remind him that, "I am Bishop so and so." Bishop Shaw had a different way of doing things. If you didn't come up to your responsibilities, he said, "Well, Reverend Best, after this meeting is over, see me in my private quarters please." Now, in other words, if he was going to have to really get down on me, he would do it in private. Many of the other bishops would just dress a minister down right in public and sometimes, the little pastor out there was doing the best that he could. At any rate, that was Bishop Shaw as the portrait of a personality. He had a lot of confidence in me and he begged me for three years to accept the position as the President of his Lay Council of the whole Cape Fear Conference and I turned him down on the fact that I was too busy. I said, "I got too many irons in the fire, Bishop. I just can't do it." Finally, his conversation with me that broke through my barrier of resistance, he reminded me, he said, "Listen," He knew that I came from a farm background. He said, "If you're traveling along the road out there and you want something done and you see a person lying on a hammock in the shade of a spreading oak tree and you go a mile further down the road and you see somebody out there in the fields with that long, wide, straw hat to shade himself from the sun, but he's working up a frenzy in that cotton field, or tobacco field, or com field. Now, which one of these people do you think you'd most likely can depend on to get something done, the man who is sleeping in the shade or the person who is working in the sun?" I said, "Bishop, say no more." (15:52)

RM: And he won you over with that?

AB: Yes. He said, "If you want something done, dependable, don't get a lazy person or a person who is inactive. Get a busy person." Born out of his experience for all of that, he convinced me. When these troubles came aboard, he came to Greenville everyday of my trial. He was here. He lived in Wilmington. From Wilmington, he was here every day until the trial was over and he had talked privtely with Judge Bradford Tillery. Now, Tillery had confided to Bishop Shaw that he had not seen or heard anything that would make him think that I was guilty of anything. Of course, when that jury verdict comes around, the judge had to act on that. Not only did Bishop Shaw befriend me and encourage me from council and from the law, he saw to it that his conference contributed some significant money to my defense. (17:14)

RM: That's wonderful. Well, you had lots of support, financial and emotional throughout the...

AB: Well, the ministers and the providing elders...I can say for purposes of this dialog and this archive, that the Cape Fear Conference of the AME Zion Church headed by Bishop Shaw made significant contributions, not only to my financial help, but to my moral health and to my sanity. Now, the Old North State has a medical society, The Eastern Medical and Dental Society and The National Medical Association, all were in my corner significantly, throughout the whole period. They didn't just do one thing and leave me alone. Periodically, they would call and ask, "Look, what's going on and how are you doing?" (18:24)

RM: That's wonderful.

AB: As the Old North State, the likes of Dr. Charles Johnson, Joy Devner, Joe Dudley Weaver, Kermit White from Elizabeth City, the late Dr. Quigless, which of whom you have met, all of those folk really deserve in my estimation the credit for being the difference between my being able to survive mentally. Some of the stuff that was happening, Ruth, was crazy. (19:14)

RM: It was crazy. Very existential It didn't seem real.

AB: It didn't seem real at all.

RM: We're going to have to wind up pretty soon here and check up again another time.

AB: Okay.

RM: You mentioned the Old North State Medical Society, you came back there, which is what we talked about to start with today. Can you tell me the subjects of the continuing education classes you just had this summer? (19:40)

AB: Yes. We took on the subject of hypertension. We had an expert there, Dr. Elijah Saunders, who was a cardiologist. He is the head of the cardiology department up in John Hopkins. He's from Baltimore. We talked about arthritis, which is a disease that bothers a lot of us folks. It bothers me a bit and of course, mine is under pretty good control now. Dr. Treadwell, you probably know Dr. Treadwell.

RM: I've heard lots about him, but I have not yet met him.

AB: He's a very busy person and he's a good rheumatologist, also. We talked about hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and we had some sessions on contagious diseases. The whole nine yards, the things that we run into. Now, the beauty of the scientific program that The Old North State puts on from year to year is to try to deal with an update on some of the common things that we see and practice. We could go out and reach out and start talking about non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a type of cancer, which you may see twice in a thousand years, but the pracical things. Now, okay, when he sets up the scientific program for next year, he'll probably, just off the top of my head, he'll probably talk about asthma. We touced on asthma this time, but not in full. We'll probably revisit what happens in asthmatic or allergic conditions next time. We may deal with the common thing of congestive heart failure, how you manage it. There have been some new thoughts as to what is more efficacious in the management of congestive heart failure. One of the new things that is coming is the use of ace inhibitors, even though it's a drug primarily for hypertension, it has a good effect on the musculature of the heart. So if you add it along with your lanoxin, which has an effect on the heart muscle. It strengthens the heart muscle. Along with your diaretics, like lasics or something to pull out that extra pulmonary fluid, an ace inhibitor which works in combination with your lanoxin to strengthen the heartbeat and muscle. We are seeing some better things happen to people with congestive heart failure. I'm sure we'll revisit that. That just gives you a perspective that The Old North State in its scientific program is always searching for what appears to be totally applicable in present day healthcare delivery. Thats the beauty of it. (23:17)

RM: You mentioned earlier that one issue that was particularly important to minority physicians was how to educate the patients.

AB: Right.

RM: Have you seen a change in that in your 46 years of practice? Have you found a higher literacy rate among your patients?

AB: In the later years, we are doing a better job in so far as getting the news out to patients. Of course, what some of these drug companies are doing on television has done a lot of terms of that. Television has somewhat...It hasn't totally erased the need for that same old visit to the church and saying, "Hey look. This immunization program is coming up and you all want to be sure that you participate. Let's get your children in it." But, television has enlightened a lot. It has passed on a lot of enlightenment and even with the use of various drugs, I would have patients come in and ask me, "Dr. Best, have you heard about this new rug, Celibrex for arthritis." "Yes, I've heard of it." "Well, I saw it on teleision." I would have to go ahead and explain to them that Ce1ibrex is a good drug and its better on the GI system. You don't run into as many cases of GI bleeding as you do with some of the other, what we call nonsteroidals, but at the same time that is evident... (25:03)

RM: Did that help you?

AB: It's evident that the people have been educated.

RM: Informed.

AB: Informed. Yeah. They have been informed.

RM: I remember when my children were born. There was a lot of literature available to me. It was given to me, even when the hospital sent me home; there were pamphlets on how to get through the first six months. You know what to do with the child and how to promote the child's welfare to the best of my ability. I was able to read that and understand it and then of course, there were other books that I could get from the library or magazines I could buy on parenting. Do your patients benefit from that kind of resource? (25:48)

AB: Yes. The pamphlets and stuff, but you know there are still a lot of people who are out there in my patient population who don't read to understand it. They might read a little bit, but they don't read with total understanding and we have to make up for that deficit. I have them sometimes say, "Well Dr. Best, I read such and such a thing, but I didn't understand it." Really, what they didn't understand was they didn't know how to interpret or understand some of the words that were used Then, it was up to me to go ahead and explain it. As long as there is an awareness that that is a deficiency in the understanding and they come to me with it, then I can help them. (26:46)

RM: It's wonderful, too, that they have the relationship, the rapport with you that allows them to say, "I did read it, but I don't understand it."

AB: Don't understand it. That's right.

RM: That happens to everybody. But, few people have the courage, the relationship with the physician to say, "Please explain this to me."

AB: That's true. I go out of my way to try to explain things without being embarrassing. Now, if I had the attitude, "Well, anybody should have understood that," and walk right on out. Well, what do you think that does to the patient? That just knocks the patient desire, will, and everything down. When you are out here trying to promote a certain cause, you can't do that.

RM: Well, let me ask you one more thing.

AB: Okay. (27:36)

RM: I want to bring up the maternal child relationship. At some point, you described to m how you had found it better to turn pharmaceuticals over to the pharmacists and at some point, you also decided that it was better not to deliver babies in your own practice. How did that come about?

AB: Well now, let's speak to the delivery first. I love obstetrics and for many years, I thrived on it. It was not a significant part of practice, from the standpoint of financing. I delivered more babies for free than I delivered for a fee. That was the cause. When they made some changes, due to some of the changes in malpractice and all of this kind of stuff. When the malpractice insurance rates wentup...Right now, I am paying around, figure between 5 and $6000 a year annually, for malpractice insurance. About '86 or '87 or somewhere along in there, I got notification that if as a general practitioner to maintain coverage for OB, then my annual fee would jump from $5000 to $28,500. (29:18)

RM: Well, the figures don't work anymore, do they?

AB: Yeah. That's right. So now, you can understand that with the babies that I would deliver ordinarily...See, that's a difference let's say of $23,000. I said now I,... my fees for delivery in about a year might reach about $2000 or $3000. Where would that other $23,000? So, what I did, I just stopped doing deliveries. I still did GYN. The other part of that question that you were asking...

RM: Well, tell me now before we leave the OB, where did you send them? (30:22)

AB: Well, I would examine a patient if he said that she was pregnant and I would refer them to the obstetrician of her choice and I don't even get involved with prenatal care.

RM: Well, say that the patient is indigent, what did she do then?

AB: Usually, ECU has a prenatal clinic and they usually have obstetricians on call to take care of that.

RM: Well, that's an effect of the medical school.

AB: That's an effect.

RM: They've been able to absorb the cost of that somehow. (31:13)

AB: Yeah. You said something about the pharmacist.

RM: Yeah. You had explained to me at one point that you did dispense pharmaceuticals, but that it was difficult for the patients to pay you sometimes.

AB: Well, I used to when I first started practicing medicine, I would dispense a lot of medicines to save the people some money. I found out that that was not really effective for me in terms of the financial structure. See I had too much money going out for drugs that I had purchased and paid for to dispense that I didn't collect. So, that was a way of kind of shortening up my financial help.

RM: At what point did that happen? (32:13)

AB: Oh, I stopped basically dispensing, that happened maybe 15 years down the road from the time I started practicing, but by the late 60's.

RM: How did Medicare and Medicaid affect your practice, affect your billing strategy, or I should say your payment opportunities?

AB: Well, Medicare was good so far as it went, but in many instances, Medicare, they were...say it's an office visit. At the office visit, all in all, it was $45 and you filed for it and they would approve, I would say $39. Now, if they would pay everything that they approved, that would be a little better, but if they approved $39, they would end up paying probably around $36. So, that makes you $9 off what your normal fee would be. Of course, that's something that you don't argue with, you just go ahead and file and they...

RM: Did you have to bring on more staff to help you with filing those forms? (33:48)

AB: Well really, I needed it. That was the reason why I kind of cut down the office hours to give me and Doris a chance...See now, at one time if we worked Monday, Tuesday, half a day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and half a day Saturday, that gave us absolutely no time for administration. By the time you went through a week like that, you just get too far behind in filing... (34:30)

RM: The paperwork.

AB: ...your paperwork. So, I kind of cut down and said," Well okay. Monday and Tuesday, we are at the office. Instead of coming Wednesday morning, we'll just X out Wednesday. We'll go Thursday and we'll X out Friday. We Xed out Saturday first, and then we came down and Xed out Friday to give her a chance to try to do some of this paperwork so we could kind of survive.

RM: Make ends meet.

AB: That's exactly right. Make ends meet.

RM: And Medicare, I guess that helped some.

AB: Yeah. Medicare, it helps. It's not as rewarding as a lot of people think. A lot of people walk in and they say, "I've got Medicare." Well, Medicaid fills in some of the gap between what's not covered by Medicare. It doesn't pay as much, but it pays some and we got to try to be very careful in terms of the selection of drugs. Like for example, even in prescriptions, Medicaid will pay some things like for generics, it will almost always issue generics. Every once in a while, I will get a patient where the generic doesn't seem to work as well as the brand name, so I justput on the prescription, "Brand name only, please," and the pharmacist will try o go along with that. (36:10)

RM: Well, you found good ways of managing.

AB: Yeah. It's really a challenge a lot of times to try to manage in such a way that you can still financially keep your head above the water. One of the greatest myths thatI have run into is people running around thinking that; "Doctors are rich. They charge their fees so and so and the doctors are rich." I tell them all the time when we get around to that kind of conversation, I said, "Now, the only rich doctr that I ever knew was a doctor who had some mom or some pop or some richuncle that died and left him with a whole bundle of money or one where the doctor was lucky enough to invest in something else like land, housing, or real estate. I've known them to be kind of well-to-do." The average doctor who is out here in the run of the mill day-to-day healthcare delivery, even under any circumstances, his overhead eats up whatever he has. He doesn't have to miss any eals or he can pay his cable TV every month. (37:42)

RM: He's not basking in the hammock.

AB: No. That's exactly right. Not at all.

RM: Well Dr. Best, thank-you so much.

AB: I think this has been a real good day and we'll look forward to getting the, whatever we need to do to round up. We'll do that shortly by looking at the calendar.

RM: Thank-you. (38:08)

Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best July 21, 1999
Oral history interview with Dr. Andrew Best, a longtime health care provider in Greenville, North Carolina. In this interview, Dr. Best discusses the difficulties he faced as a minority physician who was trying to make a difference and the many people who helped him along the way. In addition, he speaks about his experiences with malpractice suits and drug trafficking charges that occurred during his medical career. This interview covers the information relevant to the years 1954 to 1980.
July 21, 1999
Original Format
oral histories
10cm x 6cm
Local Identifier
Location of Original
Laupus Library History Collections
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at als_digitalcollections@ecu.edu.

Know Something About This Item?

Comment Policy