In "Under the Knife," Pearson embarks on a personal journey to learn more about his great-uncle and the rest of the men in his family. What he has uncovered are cold truths about the moral complexities of success and power in a racist society. His uncle's fortune was largely built on performing backdoor abortions for women of all colors, on treating sexually transmitted diseases in Caucasian men too embarrassed to seek help from their regular doctors, and on coercing donations of property from many patients when they couldn't afford to pay their medical bills.
Pearson concludes that the same drive and willingness to bend the rules thathelped men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan become wealthy and powerful in less enlightened eras were just as necessary in an ambitious Afro-American man like his great-uncle, who faced a far more difficult path. Pearson discusses his great-uncle's relationships with southern Jews who befriended him and uncovers the buried history of Afro-American physicians in the Jim Crow era. He dramatizes the struggles of other successful men in his family, charting his forefathers' rise from slavery to ownership of large Georgia farms and flourishing businesses in Jacksonville, Florida, and the accomplishments of his own father, who became the first person of any color in his rural Georgia county to earn a medical degree.
With "Under the Knife," Hugh Pearson brings to life the pains and triumphs, as well as the ambiguities and fortitude, involved in the rise of middle-class and wealthy Afro-Americans, and restores the true legacy of an overlooked and oversimplified part of the American experience.
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Offering a thumbnail history of black medicine in the South, this biography of an unusual anti-hero, who happens to be Pearson's great uncle, is as controversial in its own way as was Pearson's reassessment of the legacy of Huey Newton and the Black Panthers in The Shadow of the Panther.| Read Full Review of Under the Knife: How a Wealth...