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Thu, 06.28.1928

Alyce Gullattee, Activist born

Alyce Gullattee

*Alyce Gullattee was born on this date in 1928.  She was a Black psychologist, educator and activist.  Born and raised in Detroit, her family had moved from Georgia during the Great Migration. Neither of her parents made it to high school, and her father worked at a Chrysler plant as a stoker in the furnaces. But Gullattee’s parents were determined that their children would get a good education, and her mother who could barely read took night classes to help her children with their homework. 

After high school, she would go on to study zoology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she sat as one of the few Black women in lecture classes where instructors discussed racist theories about differences in skull sizes between Black and white people, and how it affected their learning abilities. “Do what you have to do to get through the course and get the grade,” Gullattee would later tell her daughter. “You can respond to it afterward.”  It was there while waiting at a bus stop near the UC Santa Barbara campus, that she would meet the man who would become her husband of 41 years, a fellow student named Latinee Gullattee. 

In the years that followed, they would move together to the District, then briefly to the South, where her husband was pursuing a teaching job. She had been active in the NAACP since high school and had picketed outside stores in Santa Barbara because they refused to hire Black employees in non-menial jobs. But it was in the South that Gullattee experienced Jim Crow Laws firsthand.  “I saw that no matter what we talked about or no matter what we did,” she later said in an interview, “unless we became sophisticated and educated to the point that we could devise methods of change that would not in any way constantly threaten the lives of those who would be the ones to map out a strategy, we were never going to be able to survive.” 

She lasted six months in the South before moving back to California, Blackwell said. Then, in 1960, she and her husband and daughter drove across the country in their 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air with a piece of paper in Gullattee’s hand: an acceptance letter from the Howard University College of Medicine.  In the decades that followed, her service to Howard University was “unparalleled,” In the late 1980s, Gullattee also made national headlines when she became a central figure in one of several drug controversies surrounding then-Mayor Marion Barry. News broke that Gullattee had allegedly told police that Barry had suffered a cocaine overdose when he was admitted to Howard University Hospital in September 1983. She denied she made the allegations, felt betrayed by the way the incident was handled and was pained by the constant news coverage.  “Many people who are members of my church owe their sobriety to the work she’s done,” the Rev. Willie Wilson, who was then Gullattee’s pastor at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, told The Post at the time. 

It was not unusual for Gullattee to wander alone down alleys in Northwest Washington, at the height of the crack epidemic of the 1980s, searching for a patient she feared had overdosed.  Gullattee, a pioneering psychiatrist and devoted civil rights activist, would become one of the nation’s most respected experts on substance abuse. As the country waged a war on drugs, Gullattee reached out to the most vulnerable the crack addicts, the AIDS patients, the sex workers and treated them like family.  Before her death, Gullattee was the oldest faculty member at Howard University, where she spent a career serving as an associate professor of psychiatry and as director of the Howard University Institute on Substance Abuse and Addiction. 

She was one of the first people to lay a brick at the groundbreaking for Howard University Hospital. She received appointments from Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to serve on several White House committees. And in the early 1980s, she served as administrator of the District’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. But to her family, her community at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, and to generations of her patients and students, she was simply “Mimi,” or “Dr. G.”  On April 30, 2020 after half a century of service at Howard University and in the nation’s capital, Alyce Gullattee died after testing positive for the coronavirus (covid-19), she was 91. Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick wrote in a letter after her death. “She played a significant role in the education and training of literally thousands of physicians, including a significant percentage of the African American physicians practicing in this country.” 

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