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Men and Women of Distinction: Dr. Joycelyn Elders

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Dr. Joycelyn Elders is known as the first African American appointed as Surgeon General of the United States during the Clinton Administration. Behind her plain spoken manner is a woman who grew up in poverty during the great depression and despite the odds, went to college and became a physician and respected scientist. In this one-on-one interview with Ernie Dumas, Elders opens up about her childhood, the struggle to make it to Little Rock for her first day of college and the relationships that defined her. Elders recounts stories of her residency at UAMS that influenced her to become a strong advocate for children's health and an opponent of teenage pregnancy.

TRANSCRIPT

THE AMERICAN DREAM. IT'S THE BELIEF THAT IF YOU WORK HARD ENOUGH AND ARE PERSISTENT ENOUGH, YOU CAN BECOME WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE TP. THE BIOGRAPHY OF DR. JOYCELYN ELDERS IS THE AMERICAN DREAM. IT IS THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN GIRL, THE ELDEST OF EIGHT CHILDREN. AS A CHILD, SHE PICKED COTTON, CARED FOR HER SIBLINGS AND HOPED FOR THE DAY SHE MIGHT WORK AS A SHOP KEEPER. AS AN ADULT, SHE'S A MOTHER, DOCTOR, SCIENTIST AND AN OUTSPOKEN ADVOCATE FOR CHILDREN'S HEALTH. SHE STARTED WITH NOTHING AND HAD A JOURNEY THAT WOULD WIND THROUGH THE NATION'S CAPITOL IN 19893 AS THE SURGEON AGAIN OF THE UNITED STATES. DR. ELDERS IS A WOMAN OF DISTINCTION WHOSE INTEL LECT AND STRONG SENSE OF CONVICTION HAVE ALWAYS KEPT HER A LITTLE AHEAD OF HER TIME.

YOU WERE ALL TOGETHER, EIGHT CHILDREN, TWO ADULTS IN ONE HOUSE. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR HOUSE. DIDN'T HAVE RUNNING WATER, ELECTRICITY, TELEPHONE, OR NATURAL GAS, GROWING UP.

WE LIVED IN WHAT WOULD BE CALLED TECHNICALLY A THREE-ROOM SHACK, IF YOU WILL. WE HAD WHAT WAS A KITCHEN, A BIGGER BEDROOM WITH THE FIRE PLACE WHERE MY MOM AND DAD AND SISTERS, BROTHERS SLEPT. AND THEN MY SISTERS AND MYSELF, THERE WAS ANOTHER BEDROOM WHERE WE WERE. BUT THERE WAS NEVER A HEAT. THE ONLY HEAT WE HAD WAS THE FIRE PLACE. OUR COOK STOVE. WE HAD OBVIOUSLY NO AIR CONDITIONING. WE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A FAN EXCEPT YOU KNOW, A PIECE OF BOARD THAT WE WOULD USE TO FAN WHEN IT WAS EXTREMELY HOT. SO IT WAS UNDER THE MOST DIRE CONDITIONS. VERY, VERY POOR. BUT THE ONE THING THAT I MUST SAY, I NEVER REMEMBER US BEING HUNGRY. BECAUSE WE RAISED ALL OF OUR FOOD. MY MOM WOULD WORK IN THE FIELDS ALL DAY LONG AND COME HOME AND CAN, YOU KNOW, PUTTING UP FRUITS AND VEGETABLES UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. AND GET UP EARLY THE NEXT MORNING FIXING LUNCH TO TAKE TO FIELDS. AND THE FIELDS WAS SOMETIMES FOUR, FIVE MILES AWAY. HAD TO GO TO FIELDS IN THIS WAGON. PULLED BY HORSES, MULES. TAKE HER TO LUNCH. WE WOULD MEET FROM SUN UP TO SUN DOWN.

JOYCELYN ELDERS WAS BORN IN 1933 AS MINNIE LEE JONES IN SCHALL ARKANSAS. HER LIFE WAS POT LUCK PICNICS AFTER CHURCH, WALKING TO SCHOOL WITH HER BEST FRIEND, PICKING COTTON AND WATCHING AFTER HER BROTHERS AND SISTERS. HER FATHER WAS A MAN OF FEW WORDS WHO WORKED AS A SHARE CROPPER AND HUNTED FOX AND RACCOONS, WHOSE SKINS HE SOLD TO BUY HIS FIRST 80 ACRES. HER MOTHER WAS THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THE FAMILY, AN OPTIMIST DESPITE THE DAILY STRUGGLES OF FARM LIFE. SHE WAS DETERMINED THAT ALL OF HER CHILDREN WOULD BE EDUCATED AND SHE TAUGHT THEM READING AND MATH AS EARLY AS THE AGE OF 4. THE ELDERS DESCRIBED SCHALL AS A NEIGHBORHOOD PLACE. BLACK AND WHITE FARMERS IN THE AREA SHARED EQUIPMENT AND HELPED EACH OTHER. STILL, THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE TO BEING BLACK THAT COULD BE FELT, IF NOT ALWAYS SEEN.

I FEEL THERE WAS AN INGRAINED FEELING OF INFERIORTY. I FELT THAT, YOU KNOW, WE COULDN'T DO THINGS AS WELL AS WHITE PEOPLE. OR IF WE DID, WE WERE INGRAINED WITH THE FEELING THAT NOT ONLY DID WE HAVE TO DO IT AS WELL, WE HAD TO DO IT BETTER IN ORDER TO BE RECOGNIZED FOR HAVING DONE IT JUST AS WELL.

YOU WROTE IN YOUR BOOK THAT YOU FANTASIZED ABOUT SOME DAY BEING A STORE CLERK.

YES. THE REASON I FANTASIZED ABOUT BEING A STORE CLERK, TO ME, REALLY I HAD NEVER SEEN ANYTHING BETTER. YOU CAN'T BE WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE. AND I SAW STORE CLERKS WORKING IN THESE BUILDINGS. OUT OF THE SUN WITH FANS GOING AND THEY SEEMED TO HAVE JUST HAVE THIS WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL JOB.

IN 1944, DR. ELDERS WOULD BE EXPOSED TO A WORLD OF NEW OPPORTUNITIES WHEN SHE MOVED WITH HER FAMILY TO RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA. IT WAS THE HEIGHT OF WORLD WAR II AND THERE WAS WORK TO BE HAD IN FACTORIES AND SHIPYARDS IN THE CALIFORNIA BAY. DR. ELDERS WENT TO SCHOOL IN A FOUR-STORY BUILDING WITH WHITE KIDS, A FAR CRY FROM THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOL HOUSE THAT SHE WAS USED TO. AFTER A PLACEMENT TEST SHE WAS ENROLLED IN THE EIGHTH GRADE, JUMPING AHEAD TWO GRADES. HERE DR. ELDERS LEARNED TWO VALUABLE LESSONS. THAT SHE COULD SXEET WITH THE WHITE KIDS AND THAT SHE MIGHT HAVE A FUTURE BEYOND THE COTTON FIELDS. SHE DEVELOPED AN INTEREST IN CHEMISTRY AND WHEN THE FAMILY RETURNED TO SCHALL TWO YEARS LATER SHE ENROLLED IN THE HOWARD COUNTY TRAINING SCHOOL IN TOLLETTE. THE SCHOOL WAS FOUNDED AFTER THE CIVIL WAR BY A GROUP OF FREED SLAVES AND SERVED AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDENTS IN SOUTHWEST ARKANSAS. WHEN DR. WELDERS GRADUATED SHE WAS 15 AND VALEDICTORIAN OF HER GRADUATING CLASS OF NINE 37.

THE NIGHT OF MY GRADUATION FROM HIGH SCHOOL, THAT WAS WHEN THERE WAS MEN THERE FROM PH PHILANDER SMIT. THEY OFFERED ME A SCHOLARSHIP TO PHILLANDER SMITH CLINL. I DIDN'T THINK I WOULD STILL BE ABLE TO GO. FIRST OF ALL, I DIDN'T THINK MY DAD WOULD SAY I COULD GO BECAUSE HE FELT HE FLEEDED ME ON THE FARM. THAT IS WHAT HE SAID. SOON AS WE GOT BIG ENOUGH TO DO ANYTHING, WE LEFT. BUT MY GRANDMOTHER -- GRANDMA MINNIE. SHE TOLD ME, SHE SAID, YOU GO ON HONEY. SHE SAID, I GOT ENOUGH YOUNGINS TO HOLD YOU UP. SHE TOLD MY DAD THAT I HAD TO GO. JUST LET ME GO. SO IT WAS BECAUSE OF MY GRANDMA MINNIE THAT I WAS ABLE TO GO. SHE ALWAYS SAID PUT YOUR BUCKET DOWN WHERE YOU ARE 37.

THERE'S A STORY YOU WROTE ABOUT GETTING READY TO GO TO CLINL. YOU HAVE TO CATCH THE BUS TO GO TO LITTLE ROCK TO THE FIRST DAY OF CLASSES. AND YOU HAD TO RAISE SOME MONEY. I THINK IT WAS 3 --

$3.46.

$3.46. YOU DIDN'T HAVE IT.

THAT'S RIGHT.

HOW DID YOU GET IT?

I'LL NEVER FORGET THIS. I ALWAYS FELT THAT I HAD TO HELP MY SISTERS AND BROTHERS TO GET OUT OF THE COTTON PATCH. MY SISTERS AND BROTHERS PICKED COTTON IN ORDER TO RAISE ENOUGH MONEY TO GIVE ME MY BUS FARE TO LITTLE ROCK. WHICH WAS $3.46. AND I REMEMBER WE WORKED ALL DAY. THERE WAS A LONG HARD DAY. WE WERE OUT THERE PICKING COTT COTTON. AND MY YOUNGER BROTHER WHO IS A MINISTER NOW. HE WAS 5 YEARS OLD. LOOKING UP AT ME WITH THOSE GREAT BIG EYES. WANTED TO KNOW, NOT WITH MALICE, BUT WANTED TO KNOW, DO WE HAVE ENOUGH YET? AND, YOU KNOW, SOMEHOW I NEVER FORGOT THAT. I PROMISED MYSELF ANY TIME ANY OF MY SISTERS AND BROTHERS WANTED TO GO TO SCHOOL, THAT I WOULD HELP THEM. I HAPPENED TO HAVE MARRIED A MAN WHO WAS VERY WILLING TO HELP EVERYONE THAT NEEDED HELP WHEN THERE WAS A CRISIS.

DR. ELDERS GRADUATED FROM P PHILANDER SMITH IN 1952 AND WAS MARRIED SHORTLY AFTER WARD TO CORNELIUS REYNOLDS WHOM SHE MET AT SCHOOL. THE TWO MOVED TO MILWAUKEE WHERE CORNELIUS HAD GOTTEN A JOB WITH THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. ELDERS WORKED AS A NURSES AIDE AT THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION HOSPITAL. BUT ELDERS WAS STILL INTERESTED IN MEDICAL SCHOOL AND SHE FOUND AN OPPORTUNITY WHEN SHE ENLISTED IN A WOMEN'S MEDICAL SPECIALIST CORPS WITH THE ARMY. WHILE THIS PUT AN END TO HER FIRST MARRIAGE IT PROVIDED THE MEANS TO CONTINUE HER EDUCATION. AFTER THREE YEARS IN KOL RA TWO THE ARMY, ELDERS RETURNED TO ARKANSAS TO BEGIN MEDICAL SCHOOL. OF THE 100 NEW STUDENTS ENTERING THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS MEDICAL SCHOOL IN 1956 ELDERS WAS ONE OF THREE BLACK STUDENTS AND ONE OF THREE WOMEN. AND MEDICAL SCHOOL, ELDERS THRIVED, HAVING FINALLY FOUND A COMPELLING CHALLENGE TO HER INTEL LECT AND AMBITION. AT UAMS, SHE DEVELOPED AN INTEREST IN SURGERY AND PEDIATRICS BUT SHE WAS TORN BETWEEN THE TWO SPECIALISTS. AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT, JUST AS SHE DECIDED TO APPLY FOR AN INTERNSHIP IN MINNESOTA, SHE MET OLIVER ELDERS. TELL ME ABOUT MEETING DR. -- OR COACH ELDERS.

THAT'S A REALLY -- MEETING COACH ELDERS IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT EVER HAPPENED IN MY LIFE. BUT I WENT -- THAT WAS THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS WOULD SEND MEDICAL STUDENTS, UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A DOCTOR. THEY WOULD SEND MEDICAL STUDENTS OVER TO EXAM TIN ATHLETIC TEAMS. THEY STILL DO THAT. AND SO I WAS SENT OVER TO EXAMINE HORACE MANN'S BASKETBALL TEAM. WHEN I WENT IN, THEY DIDN'T WANT TO LELT ME IN. I THEY SAID COACH THERE'S A WOMAN OUT HERE WHO SAID SHE'S THE DOCTOR. SHE CAN'T COME IN. HE HAD THE GUYS ALREADY STRIPPED DOWN. HE CAME, SAID, WELL, YOU CAN'T COME IN HERE. I SAID WELL YOU WANT YOUR BASKETBALL TEAM EXAMINED, DON'T YOU? I'M THE DOCTOR. SO HE STEPPED BACK AND HIS GUYS WOULD SAY, OH, COACH, WE CAN'T HAVE THAT LADY. AND SO HE SAID, ALL RIGHT, HE SAID, I'LL BE FIRST. AND SO HE GOT HIS PHYSICAL FIRST. THEN THE GUYS ALL LINED UP TO GET THEIR PHYSICAL. I SAID I HAVE BEEN XANLING HIM EVER SINCE 37

FOUR MONTH AFTER THEY MET ELDERS AND OLIVER WERE MARRIED. BUT MINNESOTA WAS STILL WAITING. ELDERS HAD BEEN ACCEPTED AS A PEDIATRIC INTERN AND WITHIN A FEW MONTHS SHE HAD TO LEAVE OLIVER AND ARKANSAS WHILE SHE CONTINUED HER ENL KAGS. AFTER A YEAR IN MINNESOTA, ELD ELDERS RETURNED TO ARKANSAS AND FINISHED HER PEDIATRIC RESIDENCY. IN 1963, IN HER SECOND YEAR OF RESIDENCY, ELDERS HAD HER FIRST CHILD ERIC. BY THE END OF THE YEAR, SHE WAS CHIEF RESIDENT. ELDERS WORKED 365 DAYS THAT YEAR MAKING ROUNDS EVERY DAY. AND WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERY PEDIATRIC ADMISSION. BY THE TIME IT WAS OVER, ELDERS WAS READY FOR PRIVATE PRACTICE, BUT SHE WAS PERSUADED BY HER MENTOR TO GO INTO PEDIATRIC RESEARCH. A MOVE THAT ALLOWED HER TO BALANCE HER WORK LIFE AND FAMILY LIFE. AS A PEDIATRIC, DR. ELDERS HAS WRITTEN MANY RESEARCH PAPERS AND HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN MEDICAL JOURNALS AROUND THE WORLD. WHAT IS A PEDIATRIC ENDOCROINOLOGST.

THEY TAKE CARE OF DISEASES OF THE IND KRIN SYSTEM LIKE DIE BEATY, THYROID DISEASE, GROWTH PROBLEMS. IT'S RESTRICTED TO CHILDREN. TAKE CARE OF CHILDREN WITH SEXUAL DISORDERS, GROWTH DISORDERS, THYROID, DIABETES. ANYTHING THAT'S RECRATED TO THE GLANDS IS WHAT YOU AS A PEDIATRIC ENDOCRINOLIGIST SPECIALIZES IN 37.

SO OVER THE YEARS THEN, PRACTICALLY EVERY CHILD, EVERY BABY WITH SOME SEVERE SEXUAL DISORDER ARRIVED AT UAMS.

ABSOLUTELY 37.

THERE WAS ONE PARTICULAR CASE THAT YOU WROTE ABOUT IN YOUR BOOK THAT I THOUGHT WAS QUITE POIGNANT. MIGHT HAVE HAD A KIND OF A TRANSFORMING EFFECT ON YOUR LIFE. YOU TALK ABOUT A 13-YEAR-OLD GIRL WHO WAS REFERRED TO YOU BY A PHYSICIAN IN THE OZARKS THAT CAME DOWN TO OAMS. SHE HAD ALL KINDS OF MEDICAL PROBLEMS.

SHE HAD SEVERE HYPER THYROIDISM. REALLY VERY NERVOUS AND UPSET. WHEN WE GOT RED DO I DISCHARNL HER, SHE STARTED CRYING. SHE DIDN'T WANT TO GO HOME. I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND WHY SHE DIDN'T WANT TO -- ALL KIDS ALWAYS WANTED TO GO HOME. AND SO SHE SAID EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT HER DADDY AND HER UNCLES AND ALL THEIR FRIENDS USED LETTER. THAT WAS HER WORD. AND YOU KNOW, I DIDN'T REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT SHE MEANT BY USED HER. AND THEN WE GOT MR. WHITE, THE SOCIAL WORKER CAME. AND WE GANN TO LOOK INTO THAT. BUT, YOU KNOW, WHAT TRANSFORMED ME IS KNOWING ALL THAT INFORMATION AND WE DIDN'T HAVE THE RULES TO BE ABLE TO DO MUCH ABOUT IT THEN 37 I DISCHARGED HER AND I SENT HER HOME. I FEEL I FAILED HER AS A DOCTOR. I FEEL I TREATED HER THYROID DISEASE, BUT DIDN'T TREAT HER.

YOU SAW HER AGAIN LATER. AND SHE WAS PREGNANT.

YEAH.

THIS CASE MARKED THE BEGINNING OF THE START OF DR. ELDERS, TO EDUCATE CHILDREN ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF TEENAGE PREGNANCY. MORE THAN 20 YEARS WOULD PASS BEFORE DR. ELDERS WOULD FIND HERSELF IN A POSITION TO MAKE LASTING CHANGES. THAT OPPORTUNITY CAME IN 1987 WHEN THE 41-YEAR-OLD GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON ASKED HER TO BE THE DIRECTOR OF THE ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH.

WHEN I BECAME THE HEALTH DIRECTOR, I REALIZED THAT I WAS NOT TOUCHING THE MAJOR PROBLEMS. THAT WE NEEDED TO FOCUS ON PREVENTING PROBLEMS RATHER THAN OUT THERE TRYING TO TREAT THEM. RATHER THAN TRYING TO FIGURE OUT. WE WERE WORRIED ABOUT HOW TO TAKE CARE OF PREMATURE BABIES. THAT WAS IMPORTANT. BUT WHAT WE NEEDED TO DO WAS FIGURE OUT HOW WE COULD PREVENT THE BIRTH OF PREMATURE BABIES. SECONDLY, HOW COULD WE PREVENT THE BIRTH OF CHILDREN BEING BORN TO CHILDREN? WHICH WAS THE GREATEST CAUSE OF POVERTY. AND WE WANTED TO GET ARKANSAS, OR THE NATION, OUT OF THIS POVERTY AND IGNORANCE. WE WERE GOING TO GO V TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNPLANNED PREGNANCIS.

TAKE A MOMENT. I'M GOING TO READ A PARAGRAPH OUT OF YOUR BOOK. YOU WRITE ABOUT GOING OUT ACROSS THE STATE AND SEEING ALL THESE CLINICS, CLINICS AND ALL THE PROBLEMS WITH THESE CHILDREN. YOU WRITE SEEING THESE PLACES WAS TAKING ME RIGHT BACK TO WHERE I HAD COME FROM. I COULD IDENTIFY WITH ALL OF IT. I WASN'T LOOKING AT THESE SCENES SAYING OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS, ISN'T THIS JUST TERRIBLE. I HAD LIVED THROUGH IT. I DIDN'T HAVE TO THINK HOW IN GOD'S NAME DO THESE PEOPLE SURVIVE. I KNEW HOW THEY SURVIVED. SURVIVED THE SAME WAY WE HAD SURVIVED. IGNORANT AND WITHOUT HELP. AND THEN YOU SAY THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I.

AND THAT'S EXACTLY HOW I FELT. THAT WAS THE THING THAT WAS ALWAYS GOING THROUGH MY MIND. AND I REMEMBER ONE OF THE DOCTORS AT THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT BRINGING ME FROM OUT OF ACADEMICS INTO BEING THE DIRECTOR OF THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT. I WAS RELAYING THE STORIES, SOME OF THE STORIES, THE POVERTY, RELATING HOW MY BROTHER, WHO HAD MY DADDY TAKEN INTO THE DOCTOR ON THE BACK OF A MULE. HE SAID, WHEN HE HEARD ME TALK ABOUT SOME OF THESE STORIES, THE ONE THING THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO TEACH THIS HEALTH DIRECTOR IS HOW TO BE POOR.

SO GANN THE CRUSADE. BEFORE LONG YOU HAD THERE WERE STORIES IN "THE NEW YORK TIMES," "60 MINUTES" A REPORT BY THE HEALTH DIRECTOR IN ARKANSAS TALKING ABOUT THESE ISSUES OF SEX EDUCATION, HEALTH CLINICS, TEENAGE PREGNANCY. IN A WAY NOBODY ELSE HAD EVER TALKED ABOUT.

RIGHT. FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS ELDERS LIVED IN A DIFFERENT WORLD, BUT NOW SHE WAS CON FRONTING THE SAME KIND OF POVERTY THAT SHE GREW UP WITH. HER ANSWER WAS SCHOOL BASED HEALTH CLINICS. A PLACE TO PROVIDE PREVENT TIFSH HEALTH CARE. THE CLINICS MIGHT ALSO PROVIDE CONTRACEPTIVES, THERE WAS RESISTANCE.

THERE AIN'T NO CLASS SITUATION HERE. I'M SAYING LIKE THAT YOUNG MAN SAID. LEAVE IT OUT OF THE SCHOOLS.

SEX EDUCATION IS IMPORTANTOGRAPHY.

IN AN EPISODE OF THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER PRODUCED IN 1988 HOST STEVE BARNES LOOKED AT THE STORM OF CONTROVERSY THAT SURROUNDED DR. ELDERS AND HER PROPOSALS AS SHE ATTEMPTED TO CLARIFY HER MISSION TO PEOPLE FROM ALL CORNERS OF THE STATE.

THIS CONTRADICT WHAS WE PREACH. WE PREACH ABSTINENCE. DON'T DO IT.

YOU'VE BEEN PREACHING ABSTINENCE EVER SINCE YOU'VE BEEN PREACHING. AT LEAST I BELIEVE YOU HAVE. I KNOW MY BROTHER PREACHES THAT. I STILL GOT A PROBLEM IN ARKANSAS. I HAVE 8,000 PLUS TEENAGERS HAVING BABIES IN ARKANSAS EVERY YEAR.

JOYCELYN ELDERS DOESN'T BACK DOWN. AND THE MAN WHO APPOINTED HER SAID HE WON'T EITHER.

WHEN I APPOINTED HER, I SAID I WANT YOU TO DEAL WITH THE AIDS PROBLEM IN ARKANSAS. I WANT YOU TO DEAL WITH PREVENTIVE HEALTH PROBLEMS. I WANT YOU TO DEAL WITH OUR ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS WITH WATER QUALITY. AND I WANT YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT TEENAGE PREGNANCY. I WANT YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. UNLIKE A LOT OF APPOINTEES IN GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION, SHE TOOK ME SERIOUSLY. SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO SOMETHING.

DO SOMETHING SHE DID. AS DIRECTOR OF THE STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENT, ELDERS NEARLY DOUBLED THE IMMUNIZATION RATE FOR 2-YEAR-OLDS. OVERSAW A TEN-FOLD INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF EARLY CHILDHOOD SCREENINGS ANNUALLY. ESTABLISHED A WOMEN'S HEALTH AGENERAL DARK SET UP RAPE CRISIS CENTERS, IMPROVED FAMILY PLANNING COUNCIL, COMPUTERIZED THE HEALTH SYSTEM AND WORKED TO ATTRACT DOCTORS TO RURAL AREAS AMONG OTHER THINGS. THEN IN 19D 92 SHORTLY AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, PRESIDENT ELECT BILL CLINTON INVITED HER TO THE GOVERNOR'S MANSION, WHERE SHE WOULD BE ASKED TO TAKE HER AGENDA TO A NATIONAL STAGE. WHAT ABOUT THE JOB OF SURGEON GENERAL? WHAT DOES HE OR SHE DO?

THE SURGEON GENERAL IS REALLY RESPONSIBLE, IS SUPPOSED TO BE, THE CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER FOR THE COUNTRY, BUT WHAT YOU ARE IS YOU WORK WITH THE PRESIDENT AND THE CONGRESS ON ISSUES RELATED TO HEALTH, OR IF THERE'S A MAJOR ISSUE RELATED TO HEALTH GOING ON WHERE YOU'RE KIND OF RESPONSIBLE TO SEE THAT THAT'S ADDRESSED.

IT'S NOT A POLICY MAKING JOB. IT'S A BULLLY PULPIT.

THAT WAS THE APPEAL TO ME WAS THE BULLY PULPIT. AND I FELT THAT I WAS GOING TO USE EVERY INCH OF THAT BULLY PULPIT. I WAS NOT GONNA SHARE ANY OF IT WITH ANYBODY.

SO YOU CONTINUE TO TALK ABOUT THE SAME ISSUES, THIS TIME ON A --

BIGGER STAGE.

BIGGER STAGE THAN YOU HAD EVER HAD BEFORE.

ON THE NATIONAL STAGE ELDERS ATTRACTED AS MUCH RESISTANCE AS SHE DID IN ARKANSAS BUT HER PASSION FOR HER WORK TRANSCENDED PROTESTERS AND PERSONAL ATTACKS. THEN AT A SPEECH ON WORLD AIDS DAY, ELDERS ANSWERED A QUESTION FROM A PSYCHIATRIST ABOUT MASTURBATION AN ITS PON ROLE IN PREVENTING THE SPREAD OF HIV. TEN DAYS LATER, LEON PANETTA ASKED FOR HER RESIGNATION.

AND SO I TOLD HIM, I SAID, WELL I'M NOT GOING TO RESIGN UNTIL I TALK TO THE PRESIDENT. HE SAID, WELL YOU CAN'T TALK TO THE PRESIDENT, HE'S IN FLORIDA. I SAID, WELL, I'M SORRY, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO RESIGN UNTIL I TALK TO THE PRESIDENT. SO SOMEHOW HE FOUND THE PRESIDENT. ABOUT AN HOUR LATER BILL CLINTON'S ON THE PHONE. JOYCELYN, WE CAN'T HAVE ANY MORE OUTBURSTS LIKE THAT. HE WAS JUST REALLY IN HIS USUAL BEING UPSET STATE. I WANT YOUR RESIGNATION BY 2:00. I SAID, MR. PRESIDENT, DO YOU KNOW WHAT I SAID? HE TOLD ME. I SAID NO. I SAID DO YOU KNOW WHAT I SAID? HE SAID, YES, I KNOW. I WANT YOUR RESIGNATION ON PANETTA'S DESK. I SAID WELL, THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT.

YOU DID.

AND I DID.

DO YOU HAVE REGRETS NOW ABOUT TAKING THAT JOB AS SURGEON GENERAL?

NO. I LOVED BEING THE SURGEON GENERAL. AND I IF I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT JOB, I WOULD DO EXACTLY THE SAME THING. NOIF REGRETS ABOUT WHAT I DID. I FEEL I DID IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME. NOIF PROBLEMS AT ALL.

AFTER YOU LEFT THE SURGEON GENERAL'S OFFICE YOU CAME BACK, DIRECTLY BACK TO ARKANSAS IN JANUARY OF 1997. AND WHAT DID YOU DO THEN? YOU CAME BACK TO THE MEDICAL SCHOOL.

I CAME BACK TO THE MEDICAL SCHOOL. AND MY OLD JOB AS PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRIC ENDOCRINOLOGY. I GANN TO SEE PATIENTS AND TEACH MEDICAL STUDENTS AS I HAD DONE BEFORE. THEN I HAD A LOT OF SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS. I WAS ON THE SPEAKING CIRCUIT.

WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT BEING AN ENDOCRINOLOGIST?

I COULD REALLY FIND ANSWERS. THAT WAS A WAY TO FIND ANSWERS TO WHAT WAS CAUSING DISEASE. AND YOU COULD UNDERSTAND IT. AND YOU COULD OFTEN TREAT IT. IF YOU WERE MISSING A HORMONE, YOU COULD REPLACE IT. IF YOU'VE GOT TOO MUCH OF A HORMONE, THEN YOU COULD USUALLY SUPRESS IT OR TAKE OUT PART OF THE GLAND.

MOST WILL REMEMBER ELDERS FOR HER BRIEF APPEARANCE IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT. BUT HER LIFE HAS BEEN MORE THAN ANY ONE MOMENT COULD CAPTURE. DR. ELDERS IS THE ELDEST OF EIGHT CHILDREN. SHE GREW UP PICKING COTTON DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION, SERVED IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY AND WITH PASSION AND DETERMINATION WENT TO MEDICAL SCHOOL AND BECAME A RESPECTED PHYSICIAN AND SCIENTIST. AS AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN, SHE IS A TRAIL BLAZER AND AN EXAMPLE OF ALL WHO FOLLOWED. SHE IS A WIFE AND A MOTHER. SHE'S A WOMAN WHO DEDICATED HER LIFE TO PROTECTING CHILDREN AND NEVER BACKED DOWN IN THE FACE OF CONTROVERSY. WHAT SUR LEGACY?

THE LEGACY THAT I WOULD LIKE FOR PEOPLE TO REMEMBER ME BY IS THAT I ALWAYS FOUGHT FOR OUR ADOLESCENTS AND OUR YOUNG PEOPLE. AND I SUPPORTED THE THINGS THAT WE NEEDED TO DO TO MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR THEM. AND TO ME, THAT WE -- I WANTED TO MAKE SURE THEY HAD, THEY WERE EDUCATED. I WANTED TO MAKE SURE THEY WERE MOTIVATED. AND THAT THEY HAD HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. AND TO ME, THIS WAS ABOUT PREVENTING THEM GETTING INTO TROUBLE BEFORE THEY HAD THAT OPPORTUNITY.

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