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Dr. Quentin Young Remembered as a Young Radical Who Never Quit

By Sam Cholke | March 9, 2016 6:12am | Updated on March 10, 2016 11:11am

Dr. Quentin Young joined the civil rights movement in his teens as a student at Hyde Park High School. [Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine/Andrew Campbell]

HYDE PARK — Dr. Quentin Young is being remembered in Hyde Park after his death on Monday for his devotion to social justice and fearlessness during fights for civil rights around the country.

Young, 92, died at his daughter Polly Young’s house in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday and family said he was engaged in progressive politics until the end.

Polly Young said her father’s life ambition was for a single-payer health care system in the United States and was happy to see the issue being debated again in the Democratic presidential primary.

Young spent more than 25 years advocating for reforms to the nation’s health care system, but he had spent most of his life treating those who were advocating for social justice while marching himself.

Dr. Quentin Young believed he was targeted by the political opponents of his patients. [Courtesy of Physicians for a National Health Program]

Young marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and treated King when he was struck by a stone while marching in Marquette Park in Chicago in 1966. Young treated protesters injured by police during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and was a tireless advocate for more resources during his nearly 35 years at Cook County Hospital.

“I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t active,” Polly Young said Tuesday. Young had moved in withher in 2014, his first time living outside of Hyde Park since World War II.

She said she and her two brothers and two sisters saw all of it first hand.

“He wasn’t necessarily 100 percent doing childcare, his method was to drag his kids along,” said Young, who also is a doctor of internal medicine like her father. “He often dragged us along on hospital rounds, which probably made a big impression on me.”

Dr. Quentin Young grew up the son of Jewish immigrants in Woodlawn. [Physicians for a National Health Program/Mark Almberg]

Quentin Young was one of the first people in Illinois to have joint custody of his children after his divorce in 1958 and on weekends with their father, Young’s children said King, Fannie Lou Hamer and other leaders of the civil rights movement would come to the house and they were expected to keep up in the political discussion.

“There was no filter for the children and we were all engaged in it,” said Michael Young, the youngest son.

Young’s children said there was very little about his life he kept private and they said Young traced his passion for social justice to his youth.

Dr. Quentin Young spent 25 years fighting for a single-payer health care system. [Physicians for a National Health Program/Bill Bronstein]

Young grew up on the western edge of Woodlawn in a Jewish part of the neighborhood north of 63rd Street to parents who had emigrated from Eastern Europe and who spoke Yiddish at home.

Polly Young said her father would tell stories about visiting his grandparents in North Carolina, where his grandparents still ran a general store after his parents moved to Chicago.

“He talked about vivid memories of sharecroppers living in squalid huts,” Polly Young said.

She said Young was radicalized in his teens at Hyde Park High School, one of the few integrated schools in Chicago where he first learned about Marxism and civil rights.

Young’s children said his passion for medicine came later in life and he thought briefly about becoming a rabbi after Hebrew school and then an actor when he landed a gig as Punjab on the “Little Orphan Annie” radio series, where Studs Terkel claimed he first met Young.

Polly Young said her father likely pursued medicine at the urging of his pharmacist father. She said he found it to be more than steady, well-paying work, but also an outlet for his desire to get to know people on a personal level and help them.

“He was a people person and his patients revered him and he really enjoyed that,” Polly Young said.

Dr. Quentin Young with Dr. Claudia Fegan of Cook County's Stroger Hospital. [Physicians for a National Health Program/Mark Almberg]

Young’s patients included King and other civil rights activists, and later writers like Terkel and Mike Royko, former Mayor Harold Washington, former Gov. Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama.

But that closeness to powerful politicians also made him a target of their opponents.

Jesse Sinaiko said Young hired him and several of his friends in the early 1970s to keep watch overnight at his office after a break in.

“We had a lot of fun: ordered a pizza, screwed around having chicken fights in wheelchairs and some other stuff,” Sinaiko said.

He said Young initially suspected the break-in was someone looking for drugs, but later told Sinaiko he had come to believe it was a political enemy of his patients.

Young’s children said it was not uncommon for the FBI to show up at the house.

A 1974 lawsuit also revealed that Young had been targeted by the “Red Squad,” a secret unit of the Chicago Police Department that infiltrated and tried to disrupt activist groups in the 1960s and 1970s.

Young’s children said the one thing he was private about was the health of his patients, like Quinn.

“He really was a great doctor, that should not be overlooked,” said Quinn, who started seeing Young in 1985.

Quinn said Young had a great sense of humor and could take a joke and dish it out took — dubbing the former governor “Dairy Quinn” because of his preference for Dairy Queen.

Quinn said Young’s patients loved him and kept in touch after he stopped his primary care practice in the 1980s. He said Obama still asked about Young and asked for his address so he could write Young a letter during a visit to Springfield.

Young’s patients and friends will get one more opportunity to pay their respects.

“There’s going to be a big shindig in Chicago,” Polly Young said.

She said the family is asking people to make donations to Young’s Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and Physicians for a National Health Program in his memory and to advocate for single-payer health care.

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