Good Samaritan Hospital plaque and historical photo of original building

News | 3 months ago

FOR ALL: Rooted in History

Charlotte Memorial Hospital, now known as Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center, was the first hospital in Charlotte to integrate in the early 1960s. The move set the stage for major changes in the Queen City, but it didn’t come easily – or quickly.

More than 100 years ago, and before Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now known as Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center) ever opened its doors, the foundation for Atrium Health’s FOR ALL mission was laid when Good Samaritan Hospital became the first hospital in Charlotte to serve Black patients in 1891. Known locally as “Good Sam,” it was the first privately funded, independent hospital built exclusively for Blacks in North Carolina and was one of the first of its kind in the country. It was staffed by Black physicians, who were not allowed to practice at other hospitals in the city. At that time, providing care for Black patients was not often standard practice, even if that care was separate from the care for white patients.

Good Samaritan Hospital historical exterior photo

Good Samaritan Hospital, "Good Sam"

In 1949, Charlotte Memorial began treating Black patients needing “lifesaving services” in its emergency room, but all others were turned away, and what was considered in need of “lifesaving services,” was subjective. This sometimes led to avoidable deaths for the community’s Black citizens. In 1955, Mercy Hospital made 30 beds available for Black patients on a segregated basis.                                                                 

In Charlotte, like much of the south, attitudes toward racial issues evolved slowly. Dr. Emery Rann Jr., a Black physician, pushed for admission to the Mecklenburg County Medical Society, but his application was denied in 1951. Membership in the medical society was one of the requirements for a position on the staff of any of Charlotte’s general hospitals as well as for membership in the American Medical Association. It took three years before Dr. Rann or any Black physicians were admitted to the Mecklenburg County Medical Society and even longer – 14 years – before Black physicians became full members of the state’s medical society. In fact, there were efforts at the state level to revoke the Mecklenburg County Society’s charter because it had let in Black members. The concern, it seemed, boiled down to factions of white physicians who harbored concerns about what letting Black members in would mean for their annual convention and social events, including dinner and dancing.

But the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, which integrated schools, put everyone on notice: separate, was not necessarily equal. As individual acts of civil disobedience made headlines across America, conversations were happening among health care leaders nationwide that the separate-but-equal approach to hospital administration was not effective and would eventually be unsustainable." Simultaneously in Charlotte, the financial stress of supporting Good Samaritan’s daily operations had prompted officials from the Episcopal diocese that funded Good Samaritan Hospital, to donate it to the city.

Dr. Reginald A. Hawkins, a Black dentist and minister, was outspoken in his demands to end discrimination in hospital admissions, open the medical staff to Black physicians and begin training and hiring more Black nurses and technicians. Dr. Hawkins sued the North Carolina Dental Society in protest of its racial exclusion policies and led several protests against segregated facilities outside Charlotte hospitals, including Charlotte Memorial, in the early 1960s. He even wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking the Justice Department to investigate Charlotte hospitals that had received federal funding for failing to live up to non-discrimination practices. Hawkins’ actions weren’t always well received. In 1965, his Charlotte home was bombed along with the homes of three other civil rights leaders in the Queen City. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

A New Beginning

In 1959, Charlotte Memorial’s leaders reached an agreement with the city to take over Good Samaritan’s management. But by that time, it was no longer a viable institution. Its facilities and equipment were sub-standard. It was severely short-staffed, and the bed count had not kept up with local population growth among Black Charlotteans. Major decisions had to be made, therefore, on whether to upgrade Good Samaritan (under Charlotte Memorial’s oversight) or arrange for some other hospital to begin accepting Black patients.

Charlotte Memorial had also fallen behind in its ability to maintain up-to-date facilities and equipment. It also faced a severe shortage in the number of beds needed to accommodate the city’s population growth. In a $4 million bond proposal to add hundreds of beds, board leaders promised some of the money would be set aside for beds for Black patients, but still, they would be housed separately from white patients.

Charlotte Memorial Hospital exterior, 1946

Charlotte Memorial Hospital

Separate is Not Equal

The bond issue was approved but the renovations would take years to complete. So, in 1960, more than a year before the anticipated completion of Charlotte Memorial’s new wing, hospital leadership agreed to set aside 14 beds for Black patients.                                                             

But in August 1962, officials from the U.S. Public Health Service found that there were some areas where Charlotte Memorial was not providing service to Black patients. That same day, hospital officials announced that, “the doors are open to any and all” and began the process of integrating various portions of the hospital.

It was against this backdrop that Charlotte Mayor Stan Brookshire and Charlotte Memorial Board Chair James G. Cannon acknowledged publicly in 1963 that the hospital’s separate-but-equal approach to patient care could no longer stand as an acceptable defense against charges of discrimination.

With their encouragement, and the acknowledgement that it was not a question of if but when the desegregation of hospitals would occur, the governing board unanimously passed a resolution on September 10, 1963, officially integrating Charlotte Memorial, making it the first in the city and the region to do so.

The Medical Advisory Council of Charlotte Memorial Hospital also voted unanimously to remove all barriers to Black physicians becoming members of the staff.

The Legacy of Good Samaritan

In 1963, after voters had approved yet another bond issue, Good Samaritan was renovated, expanded and renamed Charlotte Community Hospital. As a result, just as Charlotte Memorial opened its doors to Black patients, Charlotte Community Hospital opened its doors to white patients. Charlotte Memorial continued to manage the hospital until 1982, when it was shut down and converted into Magnolias Rest Home.

In 1996 the rest home was torn down to make way for what is now Bank of America Stadium.

Good Samaritan’s chapel was preserved and is now part of the “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibition at Levine Museum of the New South. In this way, a significant vestige of Good Samaritan Hospital lives on as a substantial reminder of key milestones in Charlotte’s civil rights history. It’s a history that, despite its sometimes-tumultuous road, helped lay the groundwork for the foundation of what would later become Atrium Health. Today, Atrium Health is committed to equity in care, as evident in its mission to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing -- FOR ALL.