Medical care in eastern North Carolina was conspicuously absent for African Americans until Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, a black physician, conveyed property on 504 East Greene Street, where he had been treating black patients since 1905, to Samuel H. Vick and J.D. Reid for the creation of the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home. Money troubles dogged the new hospital for next 17 years, but it still provided care for a growing African American population streaming into Wilson to work in the tobacco, cotton and mercantile industry. In 1929 the hospital was forced to close due to lack of funds. This did not last long however, and in 1930 it was newly incorporated as Mercy Hospital.
Until 1938 the hospital was supported through private donations from local tobacconists, the city of Wilson, and the Duke endowment. In 1938 the trustees sold the hospital to the city of Wilson to obtain a federal grant for $16,000, which allowed the hospital to expand from 25 to 40 beds. Mercy was then sold back to the trustees to obtain a $19,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. This increased its size to fifty beds and enabled the hiring of eight full-time employees. With the end of segregation and the building of the new Wilson Memorial Hospital, Mercy Hospital closed its doors permanently in 1964 (1).
Many black physicians and nurses went through the doors of the historic medical facility, including the Dr. J. F. Cowan and his wife Annie Mae Cowan who came to work there in 1927. Dr. J. F. Cowan was a graduate of Howard University and was brought to Wilson by hospital trustee, J.D. Reid. It was at the hospital that Dr. Cowan met his future wife, Annie Mae Cowan, who was the first African American woman in Wilson to take the state nursing exam
“Old man Reid, the banker, supervised the hospital,” recalled Annie Mae. “And his wife kept the books.”
When Dr. Cowan arrived, he was n’t very encouraged by the sight of the facilities after being used to the modern medical facilities at Howard Medical School. But they enjoyed their time at the hospital, which was then still called the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home.
Annie Mae recalled them having good relations with visiting physicians from Moore-Herring Hospital, which was the white hospital in Wilson, but where African American patients went for surgical procedures. She also remembered a screened in porch installed for tuberculosis patients, but she only remembered one patient suffering from that infectious, bacterial lung disease (2).
The Mercy Hospital Historical Marker will be dedicated at 3:00 PM on Tuesday, May 4.
1.Lewis, Necole. “Mercy Hospital: Emergence of the First Black Hospital in Eastern North Carolina.” Unpublished thesis, North Carolina Central University, 1998, pp. 1–47.
2.Railey, Mimi. “Mercy Hospital: Health Care in East Wilson.” Wilson Daily Times, 16 July 1983, p. 1C.