North St. Louis residents oppose naming medical center for historic Black hospital
Construction is finished on a new three-bed hospital in north St. Louis, but not everyone is happy about the name.
Some residents say the facility and emergency room set to open in the spring shouldn't be named Homer G. Phillips Hospital. They say it isn't fit to carry the same name as the 728-bed training hospital that served the Black community for more than 40 years before closing in 1979.
Zenobia Thompson, former head nurse at the original Homer G. Phillips Hospital, hand-delivered a letter to developer Paul McKee’s office last week, asking him to attend a public meeting at City Hall on Oct. 27 so he can address community concerns about the name.
“We have to fight to preserve the legacy of Homer G. Phillips,” Thompson said, “the man and the hospital.” The old hospital building now houses senior living apartments.
Phillips, a lawyer, helped defeat a housing segregation ordinance in the city in 1916 and later worked with other Black leaders to persuade city officials to secure funding for a hospital to serve the Black community.
Phillips, who was shot and killed in 1931, never saw the teaching hospital bearing his name come to fruition in 1937 in the historic Ville neighborhood.
Until 1955, Homer G. Phillips Hospital was the only public hospital for Black St. Louisans. By 1961, it had trained the largest number of Black doctors and nurses in the world.
“It was a point of pride that the Black community got its own hospital, separate from the white hospital,” said Candace O’Connor, author of the book “Climbing the Ladder, Chasing the Dream: The History of Homer G. Phillips Hospital.”
“That it was a magnificent place, beautifully designed, beautifully equipped, and most of all, that it was run entirely by a Black staff,” O’Connor said.
Julia Allen, who was born at the hospital and worked there as a radiology clerk in the 1970s, said it was an economic engine for the Ville neighborhood and the larger Black community.
Allen said using Phillips’ name for the small hospital is like stealing Black history for commercial gain.
“That’s no way to honor anybody,” she said of the new building. “You cannot disrespect the name of Homer G. Phillips and think that north St. Louis is going to be happy.”
Darryl Piggee, a board member of the new hospital, said that using the name Homer G. Phillips was his idea and that the proposal followed mostly positive feedback from community members he consulted.
“We are, in the 21st century, trying to model ourselves after a successful 20th-century model,” he said.
Piggee said opponents of the name are overlooking how much the area needs health care. He questioned the intentions of those who object to the hospital's name.
“If they were really for health care for people in north St. Louis, they would spend their time trying to provide health care, not criticize those who took it upon themselves to try to provide it,” he said.
The board of the new hospital plans to expand it after one year.
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