Distinguished physician honored during Moses Cone’s 60th anniversaryBy Yasmine Regester, Staff Writer
Published: March 4, 2013
While Moses Cone Health celebrated 60 years of service on Monday, Dr. Alvin Blount Jr. of Greensboro was reminded of a time when there wasn’t much to celebrate.
More than 60 years ago, licensed and certified Black physicians were not permitted to work in White hospitals nor allowed to send their patients to White hospitals. Blount was the first African American surgeon permitted at the hospital and was also honored at the celebration for his role in integrating the staff at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital.
In the early 1960s, only nine hospitals existed for African Americans in North Carolina, including L. Richardson Hospital in Greensboro, where Dr. Blount practiced medicine.
Even though most North Carolina hospitals were privately operated, some accepted state and federal funds and that implicated possible government discrimination. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital and Wesley Long Community Hospital, two Greensboro hospitals, had received state and federal funds via the 1946 Hill-Burton Hospital Survey and Construction Act.
It was when Greensboro dentist George Simkins, Blount and nine other African American doctors and patients filed a suit against the two Piedmont hospitals alleging that the facilities refused to accept Black patients that change began to occur.
Blount revealed that during this time, the board at Moses Cone decided to admit Black physicians as staff members during the lawsuit, yet still did not accept Black patients, which meant the Black physicians didn’t have patients to care for.
The group lost the first lawsuit in December 1962, but appealed it to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which overturned the previous court’s decision in November 1963. The appellate court found that the hospitals had violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments because they were connected to the government through the federal Hill-Burton funds. The court found the hospitals in violation of the Constitution because although the Black health facilities were separate from White hospitals, they most definitely were not equal.
A year after the Simkins decision in 1963, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, officially prohibiting discrimination in public places.
“By character of the suit, we inspired change all over America,” said Blount.
Tim Rice, CEO of Moses Cone Health System said, “Dr. Blount fought for the right to practice medicine here. We celebrate heroes like him and take the opportunity to learn from that.” Rice noted that when recounting that period with Blount, the doctor noted, “that was just the way things were.” Rice added by saying, “But there’s a lesson there about not just accepting the way things are.”
Rice presented Blount with a plaque at the celebration which bore a quote from an unknown author, “When you see what is right, have the courage to do it,” which Blount said he couldn’t have said it better.
Sheryl Hairston, a nursing secretary at Moses Cone for the past 35 years, has seen the changes and growth the hospital has taken. Hairston noted that even after more than 10 years had passed since the legislation was passed, African American workers still had to unite their voices to receive equal benefits and wages. “I’ve seen so much change, from technology and equipment to the fashions the nurses wear. I’m so inspired by the increase in minorities entering nursing and other medical fields here at the hospital.”
Rice said on the hospital’s diverse employee base, “We have to reflect the community we serve by working on diversity and inclusion, not just racially, but also ethnicity and in respect to religion. We want patients to feel welcomed and safe.”
Dr. Edgar Marks, Cone Health’s first doctor who was there on opening day, was also recognized at the celebration. The hospital officially opened its doors on February 25, 1953. On that date, the facility had 221 employees. In 2013 Cone Health employs about 8,600 workers at several different locations.
Blount was asked how he feels now seeing all the diverse representation at the hospital, he looked around and said, “It’s just like it should have always been.”