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St. Louis leaders join residents to oppose name of new Homer G. Phillips Hospital

Niara Savage
St. Louis Public Radio
Campaign for Human Dignity co-director Zenobia Thompson addresses St. Louis residents Wednesday at a City Hall meeting about the name of the new Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

St. Louis residents vow to continue fighting developer Paul McKee’s decision to name a new medical facility Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

Opponents of the name say the new building at Cass and Jefferson avenues, which has three inpatient beds and 16 emergency room beds, doesn’t deserve to carry on the legacy of the original 728-bed hospital of the same name. The hospital, named for pioneering attorney Homer G. Phillips, served Black residents for four decades.

Community organizers invited McKee to a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, but he did not show.

“When people disregard your voice, they disregard your humanity,” said Walle Amusa, co-director of the Campaign for Human Dignity. “It’s not just about a three-bed hospital. It’s about people feeling you’re so worthless they don’t even need to hear your voice.”

St. Louis on the Air: Nurses remember Homer G. Phillips Hospital as ‘a pillar of the Black community’

Political leaders have joined the fight against the hospital’s name. Mayor Tishaura Jones spoke briefly Wednesday to several dozen community members, representatives of local organizations and former employees of the original hospital, and condemned the use of the name.

“Please keep me informed about what I can do as your mayor to fight back against the naming of this facility after one of our brave, historic civil rights icons,” Jones said.

When the hospital opened in 1937, segregation limited where Black residents could seek medical care.

“The Black community had been treated at this very inferior hospital, City Hospital No. 2, which was dilapidated, it was overcrowded,” said Candace O’Connor, author of the book “Climbing the Ladder, Chasing the Dream: The History of Homer G. Phillips Hospital.”

Phillips “pushed for there to be a freestanding Black hospital in the Ville, and eventually that’s what happened,” O’Connor said.

The lawyer was shot and killed in 1931, six years before the hospital opened. Black medical school graduates blocked from completing residencies at white hospitals turned to the facility to continue their training.

The city closed the hospital in 1979 to cut expenses.

Alderwoman Dwinderlin Evans, D-4th Ward, is among those proposing a different name for the new facility, built at the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project.

“The projects that were torn down were named Pruitt-Igoe. So that’s why I say if they want to name the hospital after someone, name it after Wendell Pruitt,” Evans said.

Pruitt-Igoe was named after St. Louis native and Tuskegee Airman Wendell O. Pruitt and former Congressman William L. Igoe.

Sheila Steed, a homeowner in the Ville, said naming the small hospital for Homer G. Phillips threatens his legacy. “If they take our history, our young people will be growing up being confused about what Homer G. Phillips really stood for,” Steed said.

State Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis, also opposes the name.

“I got into office too late to block it,” Collins told residents Wednesday. “The best thing we can do as a community is to stand with each other and make noise.”

The hospital’s board of directors said in a written statement that board members have “no intentions to re-examine the naming of this hospital.”

The hospital “has a daunting mission to live up to its name,” the statement continued. “We intend to be worthy of the challenge.” The medical center is set to open in the spring of 2022.

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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