Oral Histories

Interview of Sylvia Drew Ivie

Advocate for Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. Executive director of T.H.E. (To Help Everyone) Clinic. Executive director of the National Health Law Program, staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Twenty-Five Years of Community Organizing and Institution Building in the Aftermath of Watts: 1965-1990
Social Movements
African American History
Community Activism
Biographical Note:
Advocate for Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. Executive director of T.H.E. (To Help Everyone) Clinic. Executive director of the National Health Law Program, staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Stevenson, Alva Moore
Ivie, Sylvia Drew
Persons Present:
Ivie and Stevenson.
Place Conducted:
Offices of the UCLA Center for Oral History Research in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alva Moore Stevenson, Series Coordinator, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., English, UCLA; M.A., African American Studies (Latin American Concentration).Stevenson prepared for the interview by perusing various primary and secondary sources related to the Watts Rebellion of 1965 and urban unrest in the U.S.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Ivie did not review the transcript, and therefore some proper names may remain unverified.
4.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents community organizations and institutions that arose in the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion to address issues such as education, employment, healthcare, housing, transportation, and police harassment. The first phase of the series involved interviews with key organizers of the Black Congress, an umbrella organization of Black activist groups whose purpose was to reconstruct the community.
Family origins in Washington, D.C.—Maternal grandmother Minnie Robbins—Growing up on campus of Howard University—Early education—Awareness of race as a child—Attending Quaker boarding school—Paternal grandparents—Role of religion in upbringing—Father’s views on churchgoing—Learning about varied religions—Mother’s education and occupation as a teacher—Centrality of education in the Drew home—Ivie’s experiences with class and colorism—Life of Charles Drew—Legacy of leadership in Drew family—Father’s decision to pursue medicine—Interest in researching blood—World War II and setting up first blood bank—Legacy of surgical students—Effect of father’s larger than life persona—Mother’s political involvement and passion for Palestinian cause—Father’s traditional views on women—Environment at Oakwood—Translation of Quaker spiritual beliefs into life work—Community service in East Harlem—Quaker views on race—Involvement in civil rights movement—First experience of discrimination at Vassar College—Decision to be a civil rights lawyer—Ivie’s political involvement—Friendships with Jewish students
Meeting prominent activists—Pivotal role of Eleanor Roosevelt in Ivie’s social consciousness—First experience at a restaurant—Roosevelt’s financial support—Beauty as an impediment to “good works”—Memorable teachers—Ivie’s thesis at Vassar—Intersection of personal relationships and political stories—Pursuing careers close to one’s heart—Decision to attend Howard University Law School—Working for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund—Effect of meeting Fannie Lou Hamer—Erroneous story surrounding father’s fatal car accident—Case in North Carolina—Changing career focus to health advocate—Dearth of cases involving health care civil rights—Tide turns against civil rights in 1970s—Republican presidential administrations signal climate change in the courts.
Father’s philosophy of investing in and inspiring young people—Power of changing people versus changing the system—Grandmother and mother challenge traditional gender roles—Mother lends herself to leadership roles—Ivie’s political involvement in Los Angeles—Working with Burt Pines in enforcing affirmative action in Los Angeles city departments—Difficulty with Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)—Serving on board of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—Beginnings of involvement with King Hospital and Drew University—Ivie becomes a health care advocate—Differences between working with Black communities in the Southeast U.S. and communities in Los Angeles—Different racial dynamic and “California” way of doing advocacy—Non-apologetic nature of group interests—Foregrounding Black interests—Lack of sufficient Black self-esteem in Los Angeles—Community “Pillars”—Efficacy of community institutions built after ’65 Rebellion--Drew University fills void in training Black doctors in medical specialties—Erroneous media representations of King Hospital—Efficacy of Black leadership in Los Angeles--Ineffective leadership—Potential for clergy to be change agents—Building on a legacy of struggle—Need to broadcast stories of struggle—Being a multiculturalist—Black ownership of multicultural struggles—Capacity to communicate with other communities—Maintenance of the spirit and confirming cultural uniqueness—Lived versus imported experience—Ivie’s soup kitchen—Similarities and differences between 1965 and 1992 Rebellions—LAPD symbolic of continuous disrespect for Black community—Response to ’92 Rebellion—South Los Angeles as a rural area.
Origins of THE [To Help Everyone] Clinic—Provision of medical as well as supportive services—Non-hierarchal dynamic—Addressing unmet needs—Restoring balance to the individual— Multiethnic nature of clinic—Ivie assumes position as director—Using stories of patients as a basis for advocacy—Outreach to African American men—Prostate program and HIV programs—Influential doctors and staff—Prenatal program—THE defies statistics and conventional wisdom—Maintaining small size of clinic—Programs for diverse communities and new immigrants—Teen project—Dr. David Martins—Doctors make personal connections—Documenting THE Clinic’s methods and outcomes—Advocacy on behalf of the clinic—Funding sources--How Ivie used stories in advocacy—Association with King Hospital and Drew University—Exposés in Los Angeles Times—Current efforts to keep the hospital open—Causes of current woes—Who has responsibility—Empowerment through institution-building—How hospital can be revived—Need for a public commitment—Ivie’s involvement in other organizations—Presidential Commission on Quality Healthcare & Consumer Protection—Donna Shalala—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Blue Ribbon Panel on Reducing Ethnic Health Disparities—Racism’s role in health disparities—Michael Zinzun—Fraud of evidence-based medicine—Community taking back management and control of its health—Balance of spirit, body, and mind—Returning community to spiritual circles—Profundity of the Black church.