It was a rousing Sunday service at Little Zion Baptist Church, filled with organ music and spirituals. Afterward, the Rev. W. Jerome Fisher implored the congregation, many of them fanning themselves in the sweltering room, that prayer isn't enough for good health.
They should see doctors too, he said. And so when they filed out the back doors of the Compton hall, many went to a separate cinder-block-walled part of the church, where heart specialists, gynecologists, orthopedists and just plain family doctors were waiting to offer screenings and medical advice for free.
The "Health Day" was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Stephen S. Wise Temple, a huge synagogue located at the crest of the Sepulveda Pass.
The idea, according to the groups, was to cooperate on a community project in order to help patch differences between blacks and Jews that have remained in the wake of black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan's speech at the Forum last summer. Clergy from both communities played a prominent role in the dispute that unfolded before and after Farrakhan's speech last September.
But as the wounds have begun to heal, a number of black pastors and rabbis have been trying to mend the relationship between the communities. The Praises of Zion Baptist Church and the Wise Temple, for instance, held pulpit exchanges for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Jan. 15, as did at least 10 other pairs of synagogues and churches in the city.
However, no project has been as large as the one Sunday, the sponsors said. There were 38 doctors in attendance, half from each group, according to organizers. Doctors saw about 250 people, most dressed in their Sunday best, during the day.
"A lot of less-affluent, less-educated blacks fear doctors," said Raymond Johnson Jr., president of the NAACP chapter. "When the minister can connect the church experience with medical help, they'll go."
Issues of Mutual Interest
Conway Collis, a member of the Wise Temple who organized the exams, said another Health Day sponsored by the two groups would be held in a low-income Jewish neighborhood, such as in the Fairfax District.
Collis, who is vice chairman of the State Board of Equalization, also said the temple and the NAACP plan to take on issues of mutual interest, such as discrimination at private clubs and the so-called "red-lining" of neighborhoods for automobile insurance rates.
"Jews and blacks have both historically suffered unbelievable prejudice," Collis said. "It's natural that we work together, and I don't mean just as a political alliance, but by getting into neighborhoods and trying to change things."
Nevertheless, one doctor who volunteered on behalf of the NAACP, Charles G. Webb, said he was more interested in helping out in the ghetto than in getting involved in political causes. "The politics are all fine," Webb said, "but I just like to help."
Two Groups Split Costs
Costs for the event, which averaged slightly more than $5 for each patient, were split by the Wise Temple and the NAACP.
Those examined were given the names of neighborhood doctors they might seek out for follow-up visits. Some, who said they have no health insurance or cannot afford to visit a doctor, were sent to county Health Department officials for advice on programs, including Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Many of those examined complained of arthritic pain, or were found to have high blood pressure, said Webb, who specializes in industrial medicine.
Before the exam, a Compton woman, Leona Sexton, 45, said she suspected that she might have high blood pressure. A test confirmed it, and she talked with doctors about her condition. "I heard in the service that these doctors were here and I think it's wonderful," she said.
James E. Burnel, 39, an unemployed church member from Carson, said he felt healthy, but that he thought it was a good idea to see a doctor anyway. "It's been a couple of years since I had a checkup," he said.