Mary’s memories: A segregated Jackson

Photo, WLRN // Newspaper clipping shown in the Black Archives
Photo, WLRN // Newspaper clipping shown in the Black Archives

Jackson Health System first opened its doors as Miami City Hospital on June 25, 1918 in the midst of a deadly influenza epidemic, as a small, 13-bed hospital.

For the past 100+ years Jackson has proudly practiced our mission “to provide a single, high standard of quality care for all the residents of Miami-Dade County regardless of their ability to pay.” But the hospital’s early history was not one of equal opportunity.

Like most Southern institutions of this time, when Jackson first opened its facilities were segregated. Only white patients were treated in the original 13-bed hospital; Black patients were seen and treated in a separate ward consisting of “remodeled wood shacks,” wrote the Miami Times.

Black doctors were also not originally allowed to practice at Jackson, according to Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, historian and founder of The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.

And although Jackson began to evolve its policies during the 1950s – opening the first maternity ward for Black people in Dade County and welcoming the first practicing Black physician – segregation persisted in years following.

Mary Harvey, retired nurse and SEIU Local 1991 representative, practiced at Jackson for nearly four decades. She remembers that when she first came to work at the hospital, the Jackson cafeteria was still segregated. A small partition separated the areas where Black and white staff were allowed to sit – and she and friends would position themselves on either side of the boundary, so they could still talk during lunch.

Mary also worked at what was then St. Francis Hospital on Miami Beach, often working the late shift. But Black people weren’t allowed on Miami Beach after 10 pm – a so-called “sundown town.” So she had to carry a special identification card to verify that she was even allowed to be on the Beach after her shifts, as did Mary’s husband if he was picking her up.

Jackson officially ended segregation in 1966. Today we are proud to have a rich, diverse staff and SEIU Local 1991 membership.

Learn more about the history of race at Jackson:

Exhibit Explores The Hardships And Triumphs Of Black Health Care In Miami // WLRN

Celebrating a century of miracles at Jackson Health // Miami Times

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