GALVESTON — Mahatma Ghandi once said “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
This occurred in 1902 when a philanthropist, a university and a community came together to open the first state-subsidized hospital for African-Americans in Texas.
Before the hospital’s opening, African-American patients were treated in the department for Negro patients in Galveston’s old City Hospital building, operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch.
In 1900, the old City Hospital was severely damaged in the historic Galveston Storm.
In 1901, an anonymous New York philanthropist donated $15,000 for the construction of a Negro hospital, stipulating that the money was to be used only for the building of a new hospital and not for the repairs of the old City Hospital.
UTMB’s hospital board accepted the donation and its terms and immediately began planning.
It determined the $15,000 donation was inadequate, so an additional $3,000 was donated from the Galveston Storm Relief Fund.
Near the completion of the hospital, a Galveston Daily News article April 6, 1902, ran with the headline, “A Negro Hospital — One of the Finest in South.”
“Nowhere in Texas will the sick black man, woman or child be offered such comfort,” said the article.
“It will have all the conveniences and advantages of the white department.”
To furnish the hospital, 19 African-American organizations in Galveston raised $574.85.
A letter from a J.R. Gibson on April 5, 1902 read, “To the honorable Board of Managers of John Sealy Hospital … agreeable to a request of yours we have solicited donations from the colored people to aid you by furnishing the wards of the new hospital for colored patients. … We asked for $450 but are glad to enclose a check to your order for $574.85.”
The hospital could accommodate 60 patients and consisted of an administration building, two large charity wards and private rooms.
After its opening, UTMB’s Negro Hospital served as a refuge for black Houstonians because many white physicians in Houston refused to treat black patients.
The hospital was demolished in 1937 to make room for a new three-story Negro Hospital to accommodate more patients.
Daily News articles from 1954 and 1957 show UTMB petitioned the state for funding to expand the Negro Hospital because of overcrowding.
By 1958, The Daily News reported the hospital was closed because of its “inadequacy,” and African-American patients were moved to the main hospital.
Integration wasn’t new to the institution. In 1949, UTMB had already desegregated its medical school with the admittance of the first African-American student to a medical school in the state.
Today, UTMB is one of the top five nontraditional schools in the nation for African-American and Latino graduates and a leading health system for diversity.
Without question, UTMB’s strength in diversity is due in part to a small body of determined spirits who came together more than 110 years ago to change the course of history — a philanthropist, a university and a community fired by an unquenchable faith.