Dr. Ben Carson, 63, is among the most renowned physicians in the world. As director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, he led the only successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head. He achieved that success despite growing up poor in a single parent household in Detroit, excelling in high school and graduating from Yale University and the University of Michigan's medical school.
Now retired from medicine, he seized attention in conservative circles for a 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Before announcing his candidacy in Detroit on May 3, he sat down with me at the Harbor House restaurant downtown. Below is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
HARWOOD: You were very into the '68 Detroit Tigers. Tell me about your favorite player and your favorite moment in that season.
CARSON: They were all my favorite players. I remember I went to the stadium one day and I got a Bill Freehan bat, and so that was pretty cool. I remember they were playing a game, it was the ninth inning and the Tigers were behind 4-1. It was two outs, the bottom of the ninth, the bases were loaded, and Willie Horton hit a grand slam.
That year was a miracle year. Every time they were in a hole, some new hero would come along and do something. The other cool thing was, the year before had been the Detroit riots, really fractured the city. Having a winning team brought the city together.
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HARWOOD: What was that experience like for you? Did you get caught up in any of that?
CARSON: I was 16. It was pretty horrendous, seeing tanks and military people on the streets of Detroit. No, if I had gone out there you would have seen my mother being like that mother in Baltimore. Believe me. There's no way she would've tolerated that. The next year, after Martin Luther King was killed, there was a riot in my school. The kids just kind of went mad.
HARWOOD: One of the things that gave you confidence you could succeed as a surgeon was tremendous hand-eye coordination. Where else did that show itself?
CARSON: Where I really saw it was in college playing table soccer, or foosball. (LAUGH) I was extremely good. They even named shots after me.
Then, the summer between college and medical school, I worked at the steel company. And they actually allowed me to operate a crane in the factory, which requires a tremendous amount of eye-hand coordination. You drive these tons of steel through these columns and onto these truck beds, in between other things. Just one little mistake, and disaster. For them to let a kid who had just graduated from college, who had no experience doing that—I recognize that in retrospect, they would only do that if they saw something pretty amazing in me.