ROANOKE MEMORIAL Hospital Integrates

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Roanoke Memorial Hospital 1965

ROANOKE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL  

VS. 

BURRELL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

Before the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress in July 1964 that mandated the desegregation of all facilities in the United States, Roanoke Memorial Hospital which is now renamed Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital was segregated. Despite Roanoke Memorial Hospital being segregated, there were African Americans employed in Roanoke Memorial as hospital administrators, janitors, and secretary clerks. However, there were no black doctors on staff because African American doctors were not allowed to practice their profession on white patients. Roanoke Memorial Hospital would only treat white patients there while most African Americans would be treated at the historical Burrell Memorial Hospital. Burrell Memorial Hospital is a historical black hospital that was built in 1915 in Roanoke, Virginia in the Gainesboro neighborhood and opened on 311 Henry Street. Several black physicians in the area, including Dr. Isaac David Burrell, were working diligently to establish a hospital for black residents. During these efforts, Dr. Isaac David Burrell became seriously ill with gallstones and was forced to travel 200 miles in a train baggage car to Freedmen's Hospital in Washington DC because Roanoke Memorial Hospital would not treat African Americans. Dr. Burrell died following surgery, and the heart-wrenching circumstances of his death served as a catalyst to ensure that this tragedy would not be repeated for another black person. So, Burrell Memorial Hospital was built in Roanoke. 

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Burrell Memorial Hospital in 1955

ROANOKE NAACP JOINS FORCES WITH CORE TO INTEGRATE ROANOKE MERMORIAL HOSPITAL 

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Courtesy of The Roanoke Times
Rev. Benjamin E. Cox (left) a field secretary leader of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and Freedom Rider joins forces with Roanoke NAACP President Rev. R.R. Wilkinson (right) in fight to integrate Roanoke Memorial Hospital on January 25th, 1964.

"IF THAT HOSPITAL IS NOT INTEGRATED BETWEEN NOW AND EASTER, I'M COMING BACK TO ASK EVERY NEGRO TO COME DOWN DRESS IN BLACK, AND I'M GOING TO GET A COFFIN.'' "AND WE'RE GOING TO MARCH AROUND THAT HOSPITAL UNTIL THE WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN." ----- REV. BENJAMIN E. COX

"WE ARE NOT GOING TO STOP UNTIL WE HAVE THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE AS TO WHAT HOSPITAL WE GO TO HERE IN ROANOKE." ----- REV. R.R. WILKINSON

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Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

​Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and the Roanoke Biracial Committee had several meetings with Roanoke Memorial Hospital administrator William H. Flannagan to discuss the integration of the white only hospital. But for the past 5 years, the Roanoke Biracial Committee had been unsuccessful in coming to an agreement on desegregating Roanoke Memorial. Most of the disagreements came from the all white Roanoke Memorial Hospital board of trustees who flat out refused to integrate. So, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson reached out to outside Civil Rights leaders like the Rev. Benjamin E. Cox. The Rev. Benjamin E. Cox was a fiery young outspoken Civil Rights activist and pastor of Ebenezer AME church. Rev. Benjamin E. Cox was also the head field secretary of CORE which stands for Congress of Racial Equality. Rev. Cox was arrested 17 times as a Freedom Rider, alongside legendary Civil Rights activist and Congressman John Lewis. The Rev. R.R. Wilkinson invited Rev. Cox to Roanoke to speak at several NAACP meetings at First Baptist Church on Jefferson Street. The Rev. R.R. Wilkinson also enlisted his best friend and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Salem, Virginia the Rev. Dr. Enos H. Glaspie to help integrate Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Rev. Glaspie was President of the NAACP Chapter in Salem, Virginia who worked behind the scenes with the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson to negotiate with the hospital board of trustees to integrate Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

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Rev. Dr. Enos H. Glaspie former President of the NAACP in Salem, Virginia and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. 

REV. R.R. WILKINSON ACCUSES ROANOKE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL OF UNJUST FIRING OF BLACK EMPLOYEES 

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Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

REV. R.R. WILKINSON HOLDS NAACP RALLY TO CALL OUT ROANOKE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL FOR DISCRIMINATION

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Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AGREES TO INTEGRATE

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Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

"IF YOU DO NOT DESEGREGATE THAT HOSPITAL BY EASTER AND REHIRE THOSE NEGRO EMPLOYEES THAT WERE FIRED, "I SHALL GATHER EVERY PERSON OF COLOR IN THE COMMUNITY TO MARCH AROUND THE HOSPITAL LIKE THE BATTLE OF JERICHO." ----- REV. R.R. WILKINSON

Complaints of African Americans being wrongfully fired continued to occur throughout March of 1964. Black employees claimed that they were fired from Roanoke Memorial Hospital because they would not give any information to their supervisors on what was being discussed at NAACP meetings in Roanoke. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson decided to put extreme amount of pressure on Roanoke Memorial Hospital by scheduling a demonstration march around the hospital the following week as Rev. Benjamin E. Cox had suggested. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson warned the board of trustees at Roanoke Memorial Hospital "If they did not desegregate that hospital by Easter and rehire those negro employees that were fired, "I shall gather every person of color in the community to march around the hospital like the Battle of Jericho." After Rev. R.R. Wilkinson threats were made, to avoid any public demonstrations the board of trustees and the hospital director William H. Flannigan at Roanoke Memorial Hospital agreed to meet with Roanoke NAACP President Rev. R.R. Wilkinson, NAACP President of Salem Rev. Enos. H Glaspie, and members of the Roanoke Biracial Committee to negotiate an agreement on desegregating Roanoke Memorial Hospital. After a 5-hour meeting all parties involved reached an agreement. Several black employers were rehired, but those details were not made public in the Roanoke Times. On March 18th, 1964 Roanoke Memorial Hospital decided to integrate. Four months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law that mandated all public facilities in the United States to be desegregated.