Cynthia Jackson wanted to learn something new about black history and became intrigued with black hospitals. She conducted research for more than a year to find out how many existed and what had happened to them.
Her questions were answered when she discovered Nathaniel Wesley Jr.’s book “Black Hospitals in America: History, Contributions and Demise.”
The book revealed that about 500 hospitals were exclusively owned or operated by black doctors who primarily served black patients in their communities during the height of the country’s segregated past.
“It never occurred to me that we had black hospitals,” Jackson, 41, said of her interest. “That prompted me to continue.”
Jackson, a facilities manager with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, moved forward by inviting Wesley to speak at an event to celebrate Black History Month.
A presentation on the history and downfall of black hospitals was held Monday at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center. In attendance was an audience of more than 30 people including former health care professionals and current staff members at Howard University Hospital.
An exhibit on display featured photographs, vintage medical equipment and banners that highlighted some significant medical achievements of African Americans.
Wesley, a former medical administrator who helped develop the strategic plan for Howard University Hospital in 1991, said the history of black hospitals is “a living history.”
“I have learned more since I finished the book than I knew when I started,” he said.
According to his research, Wesley said, Maryland had 11 hospitals that were owned or operated by black doctors to serve the black community. Seven were in Baltimore, two in Crownsville, one in Cheltenham and one in Henryton.
Provident Hospital in Baltimore, founded in 1894, was the second black-owned and -operated hospital in the country. The hospital closed in 1986.
Wesley said the primary function of black hospitals was to educate and train black doctors and nurses. Until the 1960s, many hospitals would not admit black patients or hire black medical staff, he said.
Today, Howard University Hospital in the District remains the only black-owned and -operated hospital in the country.
Jackson said she was surprised at the level of interest for such an unknown area of black history. She said she would like to see the exhibit and presentation grow and include more details about the roles of black doctors and nurses who operated the hospitals.
“I would love to take this further,” she said.