Alice’s Ordinary People

Next month the Wilson County Public Library is showing an exceptional film on an “ordinary” person and their struggle for human rights during the Civil Rights Movement. Here is more from the website:

Alice’s life story reads like a history of the movement. Early on she fought the “Willis Wagons.” The second class structures were built to relieve overcrowding in those Chicago schools which served the African American community. Their very existence perpetuated segregation.

In 1966, Dr. King came to Chicago. Alice and her husband James Tregay, marched with him, often at great personal risk. It was at this time that Dr. King joined the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and the Reverend James Bevel to form Operation Breadbasket. Breadbasket fought racism on many fronts, but its main task was jobs for African Americans, particularly from those businesses drawing profits from the African American community.

Under the leadership of Reverend Jackson, the months that Alice and her “ordinary people” spent picketing led to real change. But it was through her Political Education class, that Alice had her most significant impact. Over a four year period, thousands were trained to work in independent political campaigns. This new force was integral to the re-election of Ralph Metcalf to Congress (this time as an independent democrat), to the election of Harold Washington, mayor, and to making Barack Obama, our first African American President.

Alice’s contribution is unique in American history, and an hour program can only tell so much. It is my hope that one day a book will also be written on this important subject.

– Craig Dudnick

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Mercy Hospital: Medical Care for African Americans in East Wilson

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).

Dr. Frank S. Hargrave in the center with nurse Henrietta Colvert on the far left and Dr. William A. Mitchener in the 1910’s.

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.

References

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.

Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

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America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”

Source: Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

London’s Primitive Baptist Church in Ruins

london-church-1 london-church-2 london-church-3Last week, a patron showed me some photographs that she took of a crumbling London’s Primitive Baptist Church on London Church Road.  The Church, built in about 1895, was moved to this site from Herring Avenue in 1992 to preserve the structure. All has not gone as planned and after a tree fell through the church sometime after 2013, it has been left as a ruin.  The patron that brought me the photos had been trying to get Preservation Wilson to renovate the structure, but they said that it was the landowner’s responsibility.  The church was deeded to the owners of American Museum of Music but after one of them died, the other was unable to take care of the important historic building.  For more on the church, see this post in Black Wide-Awake.

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London’s Primitive Baptist Church in better days.

Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past

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Join us next month 2/7/2017 @ 7 pm in the WCPL assembly room for Lisa Henderson’s presentation: Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past. If it is anything like her past presentations, it will be stellar.