Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, Yazoo City



The Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital was a pioneering medical institution and possibly the only health care resource for African Americans residents of west central Mississippi during the mid-20th century. According to Wikipedia, "The Afro-American Sons and Daughters was a fraternal organization in Mississippi and one of the leading black voluntary associations in the state. Organized in 1924, it had 35,000 members by the 1930s. The founder of the group was Thomas J. Huddleston, Sr., a prosperous black entrepreneur and advocate of Booker T. Washington's self-help philosophy." The hospital was built in 1928 and provided health care, including major surgery, until 1966, when it closed forever.


As you can see from these photographs, the hospital is in poor condition. Plants are taking over the site, parts of the roof have failed, and the floors are rotting. When I walked inside, I immediately smelled the odor of damp, decaying wood. A big tree in the back fell in a storm and crashed through the roof. That part of the building in imploding. The building, at 8th St. and Webster Ave. in Yazoo City, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Sadly, that distinction does not retard decay from the elements.

On contemporary standards, the hallways and rooms were small and cramped. The paint was that infamous institutional green that you see in schools and older public buildings everywhere. The hospital had one floor on a design with three wings (like a letter "E"). Large louvered openings in the ceiling once held vent fans to provide air flow during hot summers. I hope the operating rooms were cooled, but I suspect not.


I read about this site in the Mississippi Heritage Trust 2007 list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. The article states that the building underwent a major change in 1935 when another wing was added. The hospital campus included a residence for its nurses.

The room above may have been a ward with several beds. It was so dark, I could barely see the outlines of the far wall. I am often amazed how effective digital cameras are in low light. Open the shutter and let the sensing elements continue to record light until they receive enough energy to form the image. In the film era, I would have used a Luna-Pro light meter to make an incident light measurement, then add two, three, or more f-stops to the measurement to allow for film reciprocity failure. And the colors would have shifted.

A interesting paper by David T. and Linda R. Beito (Social Science History. 2006; 30: 551-569) describes the history of the Afro-American hospital and outlines the grim reality of health care for poor Blacks in the 1920s in Mississippi:

http://www.as.ua.edu/history/html/faculty/beitoletdownyourbucket.pdf

Here is the abstract:
"Under the burden of Jim Crow, how did African Americans obtain health care? For nearly 40 years the Afro-American Hospital of Yazoo City, Mississippi, was a leading health care supplier for blacks in the Mississippi Delta. It was founded in 1928 by the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a black fraternal society, and provided a wide range of medical services. The society, which eventually had 35,000 members, was led by Thomas J. Huddleston, a prosperous black entrepreneur and advocate of Booker T. Washington's self-help philosophy. The hospital had a low death rate compared to other hospitals that served blacks in the South during the period. It ceased operation in 1966 as a fraternal entity after years of increasingly burdensome regulation, competitive pressure from government and third-party health care alternatives, and the migration of younger dues-paying blacks to the North."

Please click the link for some views of the rest of Yazoo City. Thank you for reading.

Photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera, tripod-mounted.

6 comments:

  1. What a great read! Thanks for the post. The article is interesting as well, and brings life to the pictures. What a shame to lose this important aspect of history.

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  2. My name is Camille Lizana. I live in Baltimore Marland. I am the grand daughter of T J Huddleston. We will be honoring T J Huddleston in our black History program on Saturday, February 18, 2012. This is a great piece of history. Thank you for this article.

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  3. How could this close in 1966 and my birth certificate states this was my place of birth. 1972 6 years later.

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  4. The hospital closed in 1972, I think the article means the fraternal order ceased in 1966.

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  5. I had a summer job with a team of doctors I remember them being from Kingston, Jamaica. We went through the delta offering free clinical services. It was an awesome experience for me I will never forget it.

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  6. So sad African American history goes unsupported. This was an amazing contribution to society. Just disturbs me it can not be renovated so the world sees some use from it. This is when private donations would be great.

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