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Americus’ Colored Hospital Celebrating History by Creating a Future

By:  Tracy K. Hall

History is powerful. History, when taken full advantage of, gives us firm foundation to grow into a prosperous future. By pondering our history, we become aware of our growth, our traditions, our ability to overcome. Knowing our history, with all its turmoil and beauty, helps us remember how powerful regular everyday people can be. There is something about embracing our history that makes us better, that teaches us we are capable of the remarkable. In a time when there seems to be a war to eliminate any remembrances of where we have been, there are folks who are making a stand to honor our past and give us courage and wisdom to carry into our future.
There is a rich story being told on J.R. Campbell Street in Americus. History is being honored and new stories are being created. Long heralded for its significance in our community, the Colored Hospital will be coming to life as a civil rights museum as the months ahead unfold. Through the Historic Preservation Fund, the Americus-Sumter County Movement Remembered Committee, Inc. will be adding to the story of the Colored Hospital through the African American Civil Rights Grant Program.
The historical marker, erected by the Georgia Historical Society and the City Federation of Colored Women Club reads, “One of the earliest hospitals in southwest Georgia devoted to the care of African-Americans, the Americus Colored Hospital opened in 1923. The majority of the funds to build the hospital were provided by Dr. W.S. Prather. Practice in the hospital was open to doctors of all races and so provided opportunities for black doctors, nurses and pharmacists who were unable to practice in many hospitals throughout the South. The hospital suffered financial difficulties throughout its history, but remained in use by the African-American community until Sumter Regional Hospital was constructed under the Hall Burton Act in 1953.”
Markers are fantastic, but inherent in their design is a limited ability to tell the full story. We need people to do that. In many cases we need architecture to tell the story. The Americus-Sumter County Movement Remembered Committee (ASCMRC) is making sure the story is told. Among the crowd gathered to celebrate on Tuesday, July 28th the stories were plenty. Some of the attendants were born in the hospital. Of course, their memories of the event were limited, but the fondness for their place of birth remains. Stories were literally born at this hospital and those stories are continuing to be built upon in our little village. Familiar faces of folks who have served Sumter County in various ways can trace their first breath back to the hospital. Some of these folks remember the medical staff of the hospital fondly. What they surely did not know on the day of their birth was the black doctor who delivered them, or the black nurse who watched over them with a loving eye had battled to be able to care for them. They did not know how Dr. Prather insured with his own dollars that a person of color could receive phenomenal care from black health staff. They did not know that the staff of 33 black doctors, 2 dentists, 2 pharmacists, 6 registered nurses and 18 nursing professionals serving Sumter County outnumbered black professionals in large cities such as New York, Chicago or Atlanta. They did not know that their future was based in this history. But they have come to know it. They have come to realize how special such an honor was. As with all races, at-home births and treatment were quite common during their childhood years. To be brought into the world and having been treated by pioneers in a hospital setting has become part of their story. A sacred part of their story. A story that should be remembered and honored throughout history. A story to build a future upon.
Today we count many people of color among our favorite health care providers. Many of us are cared for by black doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses, dentists and other allied health care providers. We have opportunities to meet our neighbors, of all racial diversity while sitting in a waiting room. This was not the case in the years of operation of the Colored Hospital, from 1923-1953. Embracing our history allows us to realize our wealth in the present. ASCMRC is going about the work of allowing us the opportunity to continue to embrace our history, to continue to be grateful for a present, to have hope for our future.
How will ASCMRC do it? By listening to stories. A historian is taking down notes of experiences with the hospital. He is collecting memorabilia from the hospital, and nothing is insignificant. Pictures, clippings, journals, anything related to the hospital is welcome and has the potential to be part of the museum. The community is very much encouraged and invited to bring their remembrances to ASCMRC’s knowledge. But stories from people aren’t the only ones to be told. The very bones of the Colored Hospital have a story worth telling. ASCMRC is looking to restore, not refurbish the hospital. They have set a goal of returning the tiniest of details back to the original state. The paint colors used, the flooring used, the details that made the hospital special are being sought out. Architectural integrity will also tell the story. We are a community rich in history and we are not deaf to the musings of our architecture. The Colored Hospital will be no different.
The Colored Hospital will not only be telling its own story, it will be telling the story of civil rights struggles and progressions in our area. With well spent grant dollars and community support, the museum will have many stories to tell and will serve as a destination for both resident and visitor alike. The collections for display have been collected for years now and will continue to be sought out. As Sam Mahone, Chairman of ASCMRC states, “Upon restoration of the Colored Hospital, it will be known as the Americus-Sumter County Civil Rights Center and Museum at the Historic Colored Hospital and will join an existing national, regional, and Southwest Georgia Civil Rights Trail. The mission of the Civil Rights Center and Museum is to commemorate the Americus and Southwest Georgia Civil Rights Movement, by identifying, acquiring, and preserving all documentation of the Americus Civil Rights Movement and the historic Colored Hospital.” The community should see movement on the Colored Hospital by the end of the year and a ribbon cutting could happen as early as 2022.
History. It is fundamental to our present. It is vital to our future. To honor today where we were yesterday is the stuff of wisdom.
To tell your story, submit memorabilia to the museum or to become a member of ASCMRC please contact Juanita Wilson 229.942.4204; Bob Fuse 229.944.5527; or Thomas Jordan at 229.591.2434. ASCMRC will accept duplications of materials should you wish to retain ownership of the item.