Queen's University recently held a ceremony to unveil a commemorative plinth recalling the banning of Black medical students from Queen’s in 1918. Dr. Lanval “Joe” Daly, the School of Medicine’s oldest living, Black alumni (1971) spoke at the September 2023 event. The following is an edited transcript of his remarks:
Today, we gather here at Queen’s to unveil a plinth – a plinth that stands as a symbol of progress, reconciliation, and the power of change.
I hope that this plinth not only commemorates the incredible journey of Black medical students at Queen’s, but also serves as a testament to our collective commitment towards creating a more inclusive and equitable future.
As we reflect on history, it's important to acknowledge the challenging times that once defined this institution for nearly five decades.
For almost 50 years, spanning from 1918 to 1965, Queen’s upheld a written policy that denied admission to Black students in the field of medicine.
This discriminatory policy not only limited opportunities, but also perpetuated systemic racism and injustice.
However, in 1965, the winds of change began to blow as the policy was overturned, ushering in a new era of inclusivity and breaking down the barriers that had held back talented individuals based on the colour of their skin. As Principal Patrick Deane was reading the list of physicians or medical students whose careers were interfered by this policy, a shiver went up my spine as I recognize the name of one of them, Doctor (Noel James Linnington) Margetson.
Doctor Margetson became the most respected physician in the history of the little island that I came from, the island of Montserrat. There was a rumour that I heard somewhere that he had been to Queens, but I never paid attention to it.
But now I know, in fact, that he was a member of this of this university's medical school and he became a very, very well-known doctor – not only in Montserrat but in most of the Caribbean. And he did marvellous work. So I'm very happy to let you know that the end result in his case was very good.
In 1966, a Black former teacher, Paul De La Chevotiere, was admitted into Medicine at Queen's and graduated as a physician in 1970. I got to know Paul quite well while we were both at Queen's.
He returned home to Bermuda to practice medicine and had an illustrious career as a family doctor and a politician. Sadly, Dr. De La Chevotiere died in Bermuda in 2012 at the age of 83 years. I know Paul would have loved to be with us to witness this on unveiling today.
I was admitted after Paul in 1967, and I graduated in 1971. And I stand before you today, for what it's worth, as a living testament to that change that I spoke about. I'm the oldest living Black medical graduate of Queen's University.
My journey here was not always without its challenges. But let me hasten to say that I happen to choose the best possible class, the class of ’71, to be with. Because without exception, my classmates were welcoming.
And this was not a competitive class, but it was a welcoming class, and there was absolutely no hint of discrimination. There was no discomfort from my classmates.
My journey represents the indomitable spirit that has driven generations of Black students to overcome adversity and excel in their pursuits.
This plinth does more than just recognize the past. It stands as a beacon of hope for future generations – reminding us that education should be a universal right devoid of discrimination.
It is a reminder that even in the face of adversity, perseverance and dedication can bring about monumental change. The steps we take today echo through time, offering a brighter path for those who follow.
I sincerely hope that the unveiling of this plinth marks a significant milestone in Queen's University's ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and I call on the administration of Queen's University today to put in place meaningful policies that will demonstrate this commitment.
This is a moment to acknowledge the past, but also to celebrate the present and to look forward to a future where all students, regardless of their race and background, have an equal chance to pursue their dreams and make meaningful contributions to society.
Let this plinth, therefore, serve as a lasting reminder that education is a powerful tool that can dismantle even the most entrenched prejudice. May it inspire us to continue the journey towards a world where opportunities are truly boundless and potential knows no boundaries.
Watch a video excerpt from Dr. Daly's speech:
Learn more about Dr. Daly’s life and career in this feature. Watch the complete plinth unveiling ceremony.