Hospital’s name sparks cultural appropriation debate | National and world news

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While segregation still cast its ugly shadow over the United States, Homer G. Phillips Hospital provided top-notch medical care to a predominantly black part of St. Louis and trained some of the best black doctors and nurses in the world.

The 660-bed hospital closed 43 years ago, but the facility named after the man who led the fight to open a top-notch hospital for black residents of St. Louis is still revered by the city’s black community. Thus, a white developer’s decision to call a new three-bed facility the Homer G. Phillips Memorial Hospital has been met with a strong backlash that includes a lawsuit, protests and newspaper editorials decrying what some see as cultural appropriation.

“It smacks of racism to me,” said Zenobia Thompson, 78, who trained at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in the 1960s before becoming its chief nurse. “We are laser focused and determined to get that name out there.”

Darryl Piggee, a black lawyer who sits on the board of the new hospital due to open next spring, said it was his idea to name it after Phillips – to honor his legacy, not derive from it. profit.

“I’m from here, okay? So the idea that it was an appropriation is not true,” Piggee said. “I think the board is confident that we’re getting someone’s name out there that people should know.”

The new hospital, which is in a different section of North St. Louis than the old hospital site, is part of developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project. Funded in part with nearly $400 million in tax increase funding, NorthSide seeks to transform a rundown area north of downtown with new housing, commercial projects and job-creating industry.

The hospital is a small but necessary part of development. Medical care is scarce in northern St. Louis, where about three-quarters of residents are black and the median household income is 40% below the poverty line.

St. Louis’s prominent black newspaper, the St. Louis American, noted in an editorial that it was not opposed to the new medical center “but rather to the insensitivity shown by the developer towards the concern of a community for its appropriation of the name of one of the most sacred and esteemed institutions in the black community.

In July, Thompson and other nurses who worked at the original Homer G. Phillips Hospital filed a lawsuit, alleging trademark infringement. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a new name for the center.

Homer G. Phillips was a prominent black attorney who a century ago led the fight for a new St. Louis hospital for black residents in what was at the time one of the most segregated cities in ‘America.

The passing of a bond issue provided the funding and the new hospital opened in 1937. Phillips did not live to see the hospital that would bear his name – he was shot in a 1931 attack which remains unresolved.

Dr. Will Ross, a physician who is associate dean for diversity at the University of Washington School of Medicine and co-author of a book on the legacy of Homer G. Phillips Hospital, said he it was the “social, health and economic anchor point” of his district.

Walle Amusa, a longtime black activist, recalled how the neighborhood around the hospital flourished. Dozens of businesses served nurses, doctors, staff and visitors. Well maintained brick houses surrounded the hospital.

“It was like a family affair inside this hospital, and it was like a family community outside,” recalls Jobyna Foster, 86, a nurse for many years at the hospital.

Thompson agreed. She grew up in the neighborhood and remembers seeing the nurses marching proudly in their white uniforms.

“That’s when I decided to be a nurse,” she says.

Segregation created the need for the hospital, and many in the black community say racism spelled the end.

The two city-run hospitals were desegregated in the 1950s. Over the next two decades, Homer G. Phillips stayed open and continued to thrive, said Yvonne Jones, 75, who was a nurse there. era.

Yet in the late 1970s, city leaders decided there was no longer a need for two city-run hospitals and ordered Homer G. Phillips closed, allowing the one in the white neighborhood of Saint-Louis to remain open.

Amusa was among hundreds of people who formed a human blockade to prevent the removal of patients and equipment from Homer G. Phillips, but it didn’t work and the hospital closed in 1979, six years before the closure of the other city-run hospital.

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