The SEIU 1991 staff and executive board had the honor and privilege to hear from community activist, educator and longtime friend, Senator Dwight Bullard this month. He highlighted the important role JHS played in South Florida’s African American history by being one of the first hospitals to allow access to healthcare for all. He further underscored some of South Florida’s African American superheroes.
Many South Florida African American civil rights leaders paved the way toward African American equality and freedom. Among these trailblazers was Father Theodore Gibson. In 1954, Gibson was appointed president of the NAACP Miami chapter, a role he served in until 1964. He worked alongside his wife, Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson, a dedicated nurse and activist. Together they would promote health and education projects to improve the lives of black residents in Miami. Mrs. Gibson was one of the first African American nurses at Jackson Memorial Hospital and would eventually be invited to serve on the public trust in 1984.
One year after the Civil Rights Act had been enacted into law, Dr. James Bridges became the first black resident at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1966. He ultimately went on to start his own private practice and became the first black board-certified OB/GYN specialist in Florida. Bridges said, “Jackson offered me a position as senior resident, and I accepted immediately,”. “It turned out to be a great decision because it brought me home, gave me a chance to improve my skills and work with great doctors who guided me throughout my career.”
In 1967, Jessie Collins Trice would become the first African American to receive a nursing degree from the University of Miami. She continued to dedicate her life’s work to bringing healthcare to low-income communities and founded Miami’s first federally qualified health center. Today there are now 16 of these facilities across Miami-Dade County, which have now been re-named in her honor.
Dr. George A. Simpson, the first board certified African American surgeon in the state of Florida and his wife, Dr. Dazelle Simpson, the first African American pediatrician in Miami, were both active in the fight for civil rights. Dr. George Simpson served as president of the local chapter of the NAACP and worked to desegregate public facilities in Miami, including the lunch counters at Jackson Memorial Hospital. They championed for making healthcare more accessible to the black community. In 1969 Dr. George Simpson became the medical director of Miami’s first community health center located in Liberty City named The Equal Opportunity Family Health Center.
These stories and these people are all unique. Their courage to use their voice, leverage their platforms in the community, and to forge a path for others, while also providing healthcare to those who could not previously access any, is heroic.
Thank you to Senator Dwight Bullard for sharing their stories. These men and women are Jackson’s heroes, 1991’s heroes, African American heroes, and this community’s heroes.
The JHS we know and love today would not exist without the African American heroes of the past and of today. We are proud to still be the hospital that provides access to healthcare for all, regardless of ability to pay. Over a decade ago, many of us fought hard to save Jackson from privatization. This would have demolished the very foundation this hospital is built upon. Thank you to everyone who rose to the occasion and helped save Jackson. We have come a long way since the middle of the twentieth century, and we still have a long way to go!
We salute all of the African American heroes this Black History Month!