Allen University breathes new life into hospital once used to serve African Americans in segregation-era

Published: Jan. 21, 2020 at 7:03 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s a piece of Columbia history, left forgotten for the last fifty years. The Good Samaritan Waverly Hospital served Columbia’s African American community during the Jim Crow Era, a time when the color of your skin dictated what doctors you could visit.

Today, Allen University breathed new life into the hospital, breaking ground on a renovation of the building to host the Institute on Civility, and the School of Education, along with other spaces.

“It signifies that progress is always possible,” Allen University President Ernest McNealey said.

A former nurse at the hospital said when the shovels went into the ground today, she watched a dream 50 years in the making come true. The hospital, which sits now with windows missing and doors boarded up, restored to its former glory here in the Columbia community.

“It has always been my dream that we will have Waverly good Samaritan hospital as a vital part of the community because that’s what it was, a vital part of the community,” former Good Samaritan Waverly Hospital nurse Jean Sanders Hopkins said.

Hopkins said she dreamed of becoming a nurse at Good Samaritan Waverly Hospital since she was 11 years old, and in 1959 that dream came true.

“We trusted our patients. We rubbed their backs, combed their hair, and we would help them do whatever they needed for wellness,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins, along with the other nurses and doctors, gave critical care to African Americans during a time when many hospitals wouldn’t.

“We wanted to give good care because we know that people needed good care. People of color needed good care. And that’s important because every patient was treated with respect and number one with love,” Hopkins said.

The building housed state of the art facilities with a pharmacy, x-ray room, two operating rooms, and fifty beds.

“And we had doctor Spann here who was awesome as a surgeon. And we had some wonderful medical doctors who practice here who could get you well in no time,” Hopkins said.

Dr. Cyril Spann was the first African American surgeon in South Carolina. Hopkins said he inspired many who worked with him, including her.

“Everything had to be perfect. The operating room. The instruments. Dr. Spann did not tolerate any laxity, that was not going to happen,” Hopkins said.

Waverly closed it’s doors in 1973, struggling under mounting debt.

“Many of the people who were cared for here didn’t have insurance, so they couldn’t pay for their hospital bill,” Hopkins said.

The civil rights act and the integration of hospitals also served as a blow to Waverly’s finances, struggling to attract white patients. However, today’s groundbreaking signifies a new era.

“It’s the rebirth,” Hopkins said.

Dr. Cyril Spann opened up a private practice just two doors down from the hospital.

Both the hospital and Spann’s private practice are part of the National Register of Historic places, a signal of not on the hospital’s place in history, but of all the nurses and surgeons who worked inside of it.

The renovated hospital will also be a permanent memorial to the Emanuel Nine, the nine clergy and church members who were murdered at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015.

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