Sullivan, Louis 1933–

views updated Jun 11 2018

Louis Sullivan 1933

Physician, educator, administrator

A Family of Fighters

The Morehouse Challenge

Took Strong Stance on Preventive Medicine, Smoking


Louis Sullivan, the head of Morehouse School of Medicine, was the highest-ranking black in the George Bush administration from 1989 until 1993. Sullivan, who had helped to create the Morehouse medical program, served as Secretary of Health and Human Services during Bushs term in office, presiding over the largest conglomerate of agencies in the federal government.

Sullivans tenure in the cabinet-level position for Health and Human Services (HHS) began amidst controversy on his positions regarding abortion, fetal tissue research, and other emotionally-charged health related issues, but he gradually drew respect from conservatives and liberals alike for his strong stance on preventative health care, cigarette advertising, minority health issues, and health care reform. In 1993 Sullivan returned to Morehouse School of Medicine to continue his career as an elder statesman on health matters, according to Emerge magazine.

Assessing Sullivans impact as the lone black in the Bush cabinet, Business Week correspondent Susan B. Garland wrote in 1992 that Sullivan was a rare commodity in Washington. He brought with him a passion for helping the poor and a reputation for integrity. He was one of the few Cabinet members who worked tirelessly to help Bush keep his promise of a kinder, gentler America. Sullivan used his bully pulpit to promote preventive health measures. And he raised the visibility within HHS of minority health issues and the social problems of black malesareas neglected in the past. Sullivan continues to address these issues from his position at Morehouse, noting in Emerge that he is dedicated to training more minorities to serve not only as health professionals in their communities, but to serve as leaders in their communities.

A Family of Fighters

Louis Sullivan was born in Atlanta in 1933, the younger of two sons of Walter and Lubirda Sullivan. While he was still quite young, his family moved from Atlanta to the much smaller town of Blakely, Georgia. There Sullivans father worked as an undertaker, while his mother taught school. The Sullivans faced much bigotry and discrimination in rural Georgia, but they stubbornly insisted upon their rights. Together Walter and Lubirda Sullivan founded the Blakely chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and they ran the chapter

At a Glance

Born Louis Wade Sullivan, November 3, 1933, in Atlanta, GA; son of Walter Wade, Sr. (an undertaker) and Lubirda Elizabeth (a schoolteacher; maiden name, Priester) Sullivan; married Eve Williamson (an attorney), September 30, 1955; children: Paul, Shanta, Halsted. Education: Morehouse College, B.S. (magna cum laude), 1954; Boston University, M.D. (cum laude), 1958.

Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, instructor, 1963-64; New Jersey College of Medicine, assistant professor of medicine, 1964-66; Boston University School of Medicine, assistant professor and co-director of hematology, 1966-68, associate professor, 1968-74, professor of medicine and physiology, 1974-75; Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA, founder and dean of medical college, 1975-81, dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, 1981-89, 1993-; Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, secretary, 1989-93.

Member: National Academy of Sciences, American Society of Hematology, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Federation for Clinical Research, Society for the Exploration of Biology and Medicine, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha.

Addresses: Office Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview Drive, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30310.

even after suffering from assaults and other violence. Louis Sullivans brother Walter told New York Times reporter Ronald Smothers that the parents stayed in that little town for twenty more years to prove a point: that whites couldnt run them out.

The parents stayed, but the sonsWalter and Louiswere sent back to Atlanta in order to receive a better education. The boys lived with family friends while attending public schools in the city. Both of them became top-ranking scholars who sought college educations. In Louis Sullivans case, he enrolled at Morehouse College in 1950 and graduated magna cum laude in 1954. He then won a scholarship to Boston University Medical School and completed his medical studies in 1958, the only black in his graduating class. Sullivan was well-liked at Boston University; twice he was named class president, and he served despite the pressure of his studies and his part-time jobs waiting tables to help defray his expenses.

After he received his medical degree, Sullivan completed his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. He then spent a year on a pathology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and two years in a research fellowship program at Thorndike Memorial Laboratory. In 1963 he embarked on a teaching/research career that took him to Harvard Medical School as an instructor in 1963, New Jersey College of Medicine as an assistant professor in 1964, and back to his alma mater, Boston University, in 1966. There he became a nationally renowned hematologist, specializing in blood disorders caused by vitamin deficiencies.

The Morehouse Challenge

Sullivan stayed at Boston University as a professor of medicine and physiology until 1975. That year, he and a group of Morehouse College alumni were invited to create a two-year medical education program at the all-black Atlanta college. Sullivan became dean of the fledgling Morehouse College School of Medicine and presided over its first year of operations in 1978. He accepted the position despite a significant pay decrease because it offered him an opportunity to train black physicians to serve poor black clients.

Between 1978 and 1981, Sullivan used his powers of persuasion to raise funds and recruit personnel for a fully accredited, four-year program of medical education. In 1981 his dream became the Morehouse School of Medicine, an independent entity and only the third predominantly black medical school in the nation. Sullivan headed the Morehouse project throughout the 1980s, soliciting funds from the federal government, the state government of Georgia, private individuals, and corporations.

Sullivans personal charisma and unbounded energy won him many friends in high places, including Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara, who became a member of the schools board of trustees. As Mrs. Bush lent her own speechmaking talents to the Morehouse cause, she and Sullivan forged a close friendship that helped strengthen Sullivans ties to Republican politics. At the 1988 Republican National Convention, Sullivan introduced Mrs. Bush on her scheduled night to address the assembly.

George Bush won the presidential election of 1988 and immediately began considering Sullivan for the cabinet-level position of Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sullivans credentials as a hematologist, researcher, and physician, as well as his ground-breaking work at Morehouse, seemed ample qualification for the high-profile HHS job. Controversy erupted, however, almost as soon as Bush announced his intention to nominate Sullivan for the post. The problem was the issue of abortion-upon-demand. A 1989 Atlanta Journal and Constitution article indicated that Sullivan was in favor of a womans right to choose abortion as an option, although he opposed federal funding for abortions. Even so, in an article in the same paper the following day, Sullivan noted that he would be willing to put his personal feelings aside and follow the course of action recommended by President Bush.

This statement was enough to pose a serious threat to Sullivans nomination, as Bush was an anti-abortion candidate who had been elected with the help of the Right to Life movement. Sullivan saved his nomination by writing a statement in which he declared that he opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or protection of the life of the mother. After the statement appeared in national newspapers, the nomination proceeded as planned. Sullivan further clarified his position on abortion during meetings with top Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives. His formal confirmation hearing was held in February of 1989, and then he was approved as Secretary of Health and Human Services by a Senate vote of 98-1.

Took Strong Stance on Preventive Medicine, Smoking

Sullivans tenure as a member of the Bush cabinet was almost as controversial as his nomination had been. In the summer of 1989 he endorsed local programs that gave drug addicts clean needles in an effort to curb the spread of AIDS, but later reversed his opinion after consultations with other Bush officials and members of Congress. Sullivan also appeared to reverse his opinion on the charged issue of fetal tissue research, at first seeming to approve studies that would seek to use cells from aborted fetuses to retard or cure certain diseases, then continuing a ban on federal funding for such research.

At one point late in 1989, Time correspondent Richard Lacayo offered the opinion that Sullivan had become a virtual figurehead, hemmed in by Administration pro-lifers who have made opposition to abortion a litmus test in hiring and policy decisions. Lacayo concluded: Sullivan may have lost control of HHS even before he was confirmed as its chief.

In the remaining years of the Bush administration, Sullivan proceeded to alter his reputation as a political fencestraddler. He presided over the vast Health and Human Services network with its $500 billion budget and saw to it that budget-cutting measures did not eliminate health care programs for the poor and minorities. He also directed the implementation of new labeling requirements for food that more clearly stated nutritional values and fat content.

Sullivan will probably be best remembered, though, for his public stance on smoking and the advertising tactics used by the tobacco industry. A virulent Sullivan speech in 1990 caused the R. J. Reynolds company to cancel a new brand of cigarettesto be known as Uptownthat were expected to sell primarily to blacks. Sullivan also attacked cigarette manufacturers sponsorship of professional sporting events, calling their actions misleading to the public. In the wake of Sullivans anti-smoking campaign, Newsweek contributor Tom Morganthau wrote: For a man who once seemed determined to avoid controversy at any cost, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan has lately been displaying a notable zest for combat.

The later years of the Bush administration witnessed an increasing public awareness that some sort of universal health care coverage was needed. Sullivan became a principal contributor to the plans for expanded health care benefits proposed by the administration and became perhaps the most important spokesman for the Bush plan. Rollins noted: Sullivans philosophy on national health care revolves around the concept of balanced responsibilities that requires actions by government and our corporate community of making health insurance available and strategies to bring costs under control. But it also requires actions by individual citizens who can maintain healthy lifestyles and behaviors, he said.

Sullivan returned to the private sector in 1993 after George Bush was defeated in his bid for a second presidential term. The former cabinet members fame and reputation were such that he might have chosen any one of a number of high-profile jobs. He opted to return to Morehouse School of Medicine and resume his directorship of the program there. This is where I wanted to be, he told Emerge upon his return to Atlanta, it was that simple. Nevertheless, Sullivan is still sought out for his opinions on health care reform, preventive medicine, and ways to curb tobacco use, especially among minorities and youngsters.

Sullivans mission at Morehouse remains the sametraining medical professionals to serve in poor and minority communitiesand his commitment to health care reform has not ebbed since he left public service. Sullivan told Emerge that health care reform is not something that can be announced today and implemented tomorrow. He added: Realistically, we will always want to do more than our resources allow. But I am convinced, we will be better off at the end of this process than we are now.


Business Week, January 20, 1992, pp. 43-4; February 17, 1992, pp. 141-42.

Ebony, March 1990.

Emerge, January 1994, pp. 26-7.

Modern Maturity, August-September 1992, p. 8.

Newsweek, March 5, 1990, p. 19.

New York Times, December 23, 1988.

People, March 26, 1990.

Science, August 2, 1991, p. 502.

Time, December 4, 1989, pp. 43-4; December 14, 1992, pp. 23-4.

Anne Janette Johnson

Sullivan, Louis (1856-1924)

views updated May 09 2018

Louis Sullivan (1856-1924)



Rise and Fall. The life of Louis Henri Sullivan traces a simple arc: a dramatic ascent followed by an abrupt descent. Born in 1856, Sullivan spent his early years in Boston. From his parentsan Irish violinist and a Swiss pianisthe inherited artistic leanings. From his grandfatherthe dominant presence in his childhoodhe inherited the broadminded outlook of New England Transcendentalism. By the time he was thirteen Sullivan had already decided on architecture as a career. A series of short educational interludes followed: he studied in 1873 for a single term at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; he apprenticed briefly under the architects Frank Furness (1839-1912) in Philadelphia and William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907) in Chicago; in 1874 he went to Paris and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the leading architectural institute of the western world. No fan of formal educationhe once described his Parisian studio as a damned pigstySullivan returned to Chicago in 1875 and in 1881 entered into partnership with Dankmar Adler (1844-1900). With his pioneering conception of the tall office building, Sullivan succeeded H. H. Richardson (1838-1886) as the preeminent American architect. During the late 1880s and 1890s he helped transform Americas urban landscapeand helped train a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Yet the turn of the century heralded a turning point in Sullivans fortunes. He began to drink too much and grew estranged from former colleagues. The stream of commissions dwindled precipitously. By the time of his death in 1924 Sullivan was mired in poverty and all but forgotten by the arbiters of architectural taste.

Form Follows Function. At the height of his career Sullivan reveled in the role of architectural philosopher. His slogan, form follows function, stood as credo for a generation of architects who believed that natural lawsrather than abstract principles of beautyought to govern architectural design. The title of Sullivans autobiography, The Autobiography ofan Idea (1924), suggests the degree to which Sullivan, the man, and functionalism, the idea, overlap. In his autobiography Sullivan recalled the magic of discovering the form-to-function correlation in nature:

Invariably, the form expressed the function, as, for instance, the oak tree expressed the function oak, the pine tree the function pine, and so on. . . . it was not simply a matter of form expressing function, but the vital idea was this: That the function created or organized its form. Discernment of this idea threw a vast light upon all things within the universe, and condensed with astounding impressiveness upon mankind, upon all civilizations, all institutions, every form and aspect of society, every mass-thought and mass-result, every individual thought and individual result.

Blueprint for a Skyscraper. Despite the seemingly prescriptive nature of his form follows function slogan, Sullivan was no ascetic. He considered beauty a functional element of any building. To the dismay of minimalists Sullivan regularly incorporated ornament in his architectural plans. His approach to skyscraper design best represents his essential philosophy. In an essay titled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered (1896) Sullivan defined a skyscrapers function as loftiness: a concept suffused with aesthetic potential. It must be tall, every inch of it tall, he wrote. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. The problem of the skyscraper went beyond the utilitarianhow to fit the maximum number of stories on the minimal amount of landand became a question of how to embody loftiness in design. As Sullivan saw it, the tall office building contained several functional components: a basement level; a ground floor with a grand entrance designed to Lure the public into the building; a mezzanine level overlooking the banking or retail space below; an indefinite number of identical stories, each housing office space; and, an attic for storage and mechanical equipment. The trick was to mold these parts into a pleasing whole: a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.

Accomplishments. Sullivan centered his practice in Chicagowhere his buildings include two that anticipate his successful skyscraper design: the Troescher Building (1884), with horizontal I-beams and resting directly on masonry piers, and the Walker Warehouse (1889), with vertical piers that are clearly defined as structural supports. He also imported his philosophy to cities across the nation. In Saint Louis he built the Wainwright Building (1890), a steel-framed structure commonly acknowledged as the first American skyscraper. In Buffalo he erected the Guaranty Building (1894-1895), a handsome structure faced in red terracotta. And in Manhattan he added the graceful Bayard Building (1897), his own favorite among all his tall buildings. Prior to the 1890s the concept of the urban skyline did not exist. Sullivans lofty creations gave the modern American city its characteristic shape and character, form and function. The skyscraper, in the dusk, wrote this architectural visionary, is a shimmering verticality, a gossamer veil, a festive scene-drop hanging there against the black sky to dazzle, entertain, and amaze.


William H. Jordy, American Buildings and Their Architects: Progressive and Academic Ideals at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1976);

Robert Twombly, Louis Sullivan: His Life and Work (New York: Viking, 1986).