Back in the fall of 1895, an African American man named Harvey Lillard ran a janitorial service in the Ryan Building in Davenport, Iowa where an osteopath and magnetic healer named D.D. Palmer practiced. When Palmer witnessed that Lillard could not hear loud street noise, he asked what caused his deafness. In fact Lillard confessed that he "could not hear the racket of a wagon on the street or the ticking of a watch."
Lillard shared that years earlier he had been stooped over and lifting something heavy at work when he felt something “snap” at the base of his neck, and after that his hearing started to fade. In fact, he had been in that state for 17 years!
When Palmer examined Lillard, he discovered a vertebra displaced from its normal position. After talking the reluctant Lillard into being treated. Palmer asked Lillard to lie down on his couch, placed his hands on the transverse processes of the bone and “wracked it back into position” as Palmer later described it.
With his vertebrae successfully realigned, Lillard’s hearing returned almost instantly. When he stood up from the couch, he stated that he could actually hear a horse-drawn cart down the street – the first thing he’d heard clearly in 17 years!
Thus the very first chiropractic treatment was a success thanks to a brave African American patient and an intrepid healer, forever linking African Americans to the origins and field of chiropractic.
D.D. Palmer went on to expand his theories of care into the field of chiropractic, forming Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1897, the first chiropractic college in the United States and the world. Palmer eventually sold the educational institution to his son, B.J. Palmer, who is considered the Developer of Chiropractic for his role in greatly expanding the college and the field of healthcare.
To this day, Africa Americans remain a strong student base at Palmer College, distinguishing themselves as outstanding students, leaders, and future healthcare providers at Palmer.
But they have never forgotten the first chiropractic patient, Harvey Lillard. In fact, the Student American Black Chiropractic Association (SABCA) thrives at Palmer. First known as the Harvey Lillard Society until a name change, the SABCA was formed to honor Lillard and aid in the recruitment of African Americans and other minorities into the chiropractic profession.
Harvey Lillard remained with hearing for the rest of his days, passing away on September 7, 1925 in Seattle, Washington. When it was discovered that Lillard had been buried under a mismarked grave, Chiropractors Sid and Nell Williams paid for the old headstone to be removed and a new, bigger memorial to mark his grave.
“I was deaf 17 years and I expected to always remain so, for I had doctored a great deal without any benefit. I had long ago made up my mind to not take any more ear treatments, for it did me no good. Last January Dr. Palmer told me that my deafness came from an injury in my spine. This was new to me; but it is a fact that my back was injured at the time I went deaf. Dr. Palmer treated me on the spine; in two treatments I could hear quite well. That was eight months ago. My hearing remains good.”
- HARVEY LILLARD