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Quentin Young, Crusading Progressive Doctor Who Cared for MLK, Dies

The internist came of age during the civil rights era, where his activism stoked a lifelong commitment to equal access to health care.
Image: Dr. Quentin Young
Dr. Quentin Young in 2009.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP, file

Quentin Young, a Chicago physician renowned for his passionate advocacy for equality in health care — and whose patients included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Studs Terkel, and former mayor Harold Washington — has died.

The retired 92-year-old internist for many years ran a private practice in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, where a young Barack Obama was a patient in the 1990s. The doctor and future president became close, a relationship that evolved into discussions about health care policy, and a shared interest in reform.

Young's push for a single-payer national health system led him to the nonprofit Physicians for a National Health Program, where he served as national coordinator. A spokesman for the organization confirmed that Young's Monday death, saying the news had been relayed by his daughter in Berkeley, California, with whom he had been living for the past few years.

Image: Dr. Quentin Young
Dr. Quentin Young in 2009.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP, file

"Dr. Young was known for his sharp, clear-eyed analysis of social and economic problems, particularly in health care, his deep commitment to social justice and racial equality, his quick wit, his insuppressible optimism, and his ability to inspire those around him to join him in the battle for a more equitable and caring world," the group's president, Robert Zarr, said in a statement.

Zarr shared as an epitaph a quote from Young's 2013 autobiography, "Everybody In, Nobody Out: Memoirs of a Rebel Without a Pause." In it, Young wrote: "From my adolescent years to the present, I've never wavered in my belief in humanity's ability — and our collective responsibility — to bring about a more just and equitable social order."

His death was first reported by DNAinfo Chicago.

Image: Barack Obama hugs Dr. Quentin Young
Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, hugged Quentin Young at a union rally in Chicago in 2007.Brian Kersey / AP, file

Young became a doctor in the early 1950s, and came of age as an activist during the civil rights era, campaigning for more equitable access to medical treatment. He was considered the moral voice of public health in his hometown of Chicago, appearing often on local radio.

He said he grew up in a community of progressives, absorbing leftist politics that drew him to work with civil rights groups. Young marched with and cared for King when he was in town, worked at local Black Panther health clinics and was a founder of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, a group of doctors who gave medical support to demonstrators during the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

While running his private practice, Young also worked at the Cook County Hospital, where he rose to chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine.

In 2008, Young retired. Even after giving up his medical practice, he vowed to keep fighting what he called the "corporate takeover" of American medicine.