Dear Optometry Community,
I am writing to you today with some important information about our School’s Hall of Fame. It has come to light that Dr. Frederick Mason, who taught at the School of Optometry from 1924 to 1953 — and is a charter member of the Hall of Fame — held beliefs and behaved in a manner that is wholly unworthy of the honor bestowed upon him. Specifically, Dr. Mason was a racist and a bully. Therefore, as of today, he has been removed from our Hall of Fame.
In particular, he behaved reprehensibly towards Berkeley Optometry’s first black graduate, Dr. Marvin Poston. Dr. Poston endured provocation and racial abuse during his time at UC Berkeley. He was instructed by Mason to provide his own black patients for the clinic because he was black. He was unfairly failed in a course by Mason because he was black. Mason attempted to influence the State Board from issuing Dr. Poston a license because he was black, and blocked Dr. Poston’s membership in the California Optometric Association (COA) and local society because he was black.
As dean, I am disappointed and ashamed that Dr. Mason’s racist actions were disregarded at his time of induction into our Hall of Fame, and that this did not immediately disqualify him. His membership in our most revered society shines a revealing light on the extent that racist attitudes have been allowed to proliferate within our country, our state, our campus, and within our own halls. And although this action is much too late in coming, I am thankful for the opportunity to reverse this shameful event in our school history.
I am also grateful to the many alums and friends of Berkeley Optometry who have reached out to me, urging that this action be taken. We as a community won’t rest here — there is still much work to do in our quest to support black advancement within our profession, and within our school.
Impressively, true to Dr. Poston’s unwavering spirit and dedication to the optometric profession, he went on to be president of both the COA and his local society, even though he was initially barred from membership. Dr. Poston served on the State Board for 10 years, including being its Chair; he was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Sr., and reappointed by Gov. Ronald Reagan. He also helped organize a pioneering vision insurance program, California Vision Services, today called Vision Service Plan (VSP), and served as VSP’s president in 1963. Dr. Poston is a celebrated member of the Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame, who accomplished many outstanding achievements during his distinguished career, and who we posthumously honored as the 2019 Alumnus of the Year.
For further information about Dr. Poston’s extraordinary contributions to the profession of optometry please visit our Hall of Fame webpage, and read his daughter’s moving tribute from the Alumnus of the Year celebrations.
Dean and Professor
Member, Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame
Dr. Marvin Poston (1914–2002) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. A 1939 graduate of Berkeley Optometry, Dr. Poston was the first black optometrist to receive his training at Berkeley. His life is a reflection of hard work, determination, accomplishment, and good humor. Dr. Poston is nationally recognized and respected for his roles as an optometrist, legislative and optometric professional, pioneering African-American, role model for minority youth, community leader, and statesman.
As a child Dr. Poston lived in Edmonton, Canada, but when his father became ill his family moved to California. He graduated from Oakland Technical High School and was admitted to UC Berkeley in 1935 as a mathematics and physics major, hoping to become a mathematics teacher. During his third year at Berkeley he had second thoughts about the teaching profession since at that time teaching was virtually closed to blacks in Oakland. As Poston was already a registered student in physics, he applied to and was accepted by Berkeley Optometry, which at the time was also part of the Physics Department. Admission proved to be the easiest part of Marvin’s time in the program, as he was soon confronted with overt racial discrimination when one of his professors would not assign patients to him in clinic and specifically declared that he could not see white patients. However, with support of two members of the optometry faculty, a local black attorney, and a vice-president of the University, Poston was able to continue his education. But despite his success, this same professor continued to harass Poston during the State Board examination (1939) and later attempted to deny him membership in the Alameda and Contra Costa Counties Optometric Society, though he was accepted one month later in October 1941. Ironically, in 1961 the society named him Optometrist of the Year and in 1963 he was elected president. Similar honors followed when in 1972 the California Optometric Association, from which he was once barred from membership, awarded him Optometrist of the Year and also nominated him for recipient of the national Optometrist of the Year.
Dr. Poston gave much to the field of optometry. He began his optometry practice in downtown Oakland. He undertook a personal campaign of visiting high schools to encourage other young blacks to follow him in the profession. Dr. Poston also helped organize a pioneering vision insurance program (California Vision Services, today called Vision Service Plan, or VSP); he was one of the original signers of the first articles of incorporation in 1955. He remained very active, and in 1963 was elected president of VSP.
Dr. Poston served on the State Board of Optometry during the 1960s, having been appointed by Governor Brown, Sr. and was re-appointed by Governor Reagan. In the 1970s he worked tirelessly to raise funds for Minor Addition (1978), Berkeley Optometry’s newer building. As chair of the industrial relations part of the campaign, Poston contacted nearly 150 laboratories and manufacturers to encourage their participation.
Over the years so many questions were posed to Dr. Poston about getting started in the field of optometry that after remembering his own difficulties, he established a consulting service for young optometrists. He also helped organize the West Oakland Health group where he served as vice-president and chair of the vision care group. He organized the Children’s Vision Center of the East Bay and vision screening programs for the East Bay Skills Center. He also served as co-chair of the Merritt College Optometric Assistance Advisory Committee and as a member of the Public Advisory Council on Education for the Oakland public schools.
Dr. Poston retired to a beautiful vineyard in Calistoga, California where he spent his last years, still engaged in consultations with young optometrists.