Mercy Hospital & the History of Segregated Healthcare in Wilson, NC

In honor of Black History Month I have been visiting local historical sites with strong ties to Black history and sharing my experiences. I have already written about Boyette Slave House in Kenly, NC, the Freeman Round House Museum in downtown Wilson, NC and St. John AME Zion Church in downtown Wilson, NC. The last site I will share about this month is Mercy Hospital, also in downtown Wilson, NC.

Originally started in 1913 as the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home, the hospital began when Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, a black physician who had been practicing in a local home, gave 504 Green Street East to Samuel H. Vick and J.D. Reid. Together they raised enough money to officially establish the hospital at the Green Street location. It was one of three African-American hospitals in North Carolina at the time. The hospital was staffed by Black and white doctors, but all of the nurses were Black and the hospital served the Black community of East Wilson.

The hospital had no ambulances so if a community member had an emergency they would contact one of the Black funeral homes to send a hearse to transport them to Mercy. However, no surgeries were done at Mercy—a patient would be transported (again by hearse) to Carolina General Hospital. Supplies from Mercy would be used and then the patient would be returned to Mercy for recuperation.

The hospital closed briefly because of financial issues in 1929 but reopened in 1930 with the Mercy Hospital name. Mercy offered 50 beds and 8 full-time employees. Throughout the 30s and 40s the hospital struggled financially and underwent a few ownership changes in order to secure creative financing. Through it all though the hospital was supported by the local Black community and served patients who otherwise would not have had access to healthcare. The hospital closed in 1964 when the City of Wilson integrated its new hospital in order to receive federal funds.

I must give another big shout out to the Freeman Round House Museum which provided the bulk of the information above. The Mercy Hospital building has a historic plaque out front, but the building itself is now home to the Wilson Community Improvement Association. To learn more about Mercy Hospital check out the Freeman Round House Museum and the blog of Lisa Y. Henderson (who curated the exhibits at the Round House Museum). You can search “Mercy” and find her posts on the topic. I highly recommend visiting the Museum and checking out Lisa’s great genealogy and local history work!

Published by Beth Bullock Nevarez

I am a historical consultant, offering research, collections care, and outreach services to museums, businesses, and other organizations. I graduated with a Master's Degree in public history from UNC Wilmington in 2015. I am also an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill, where I majored in History with a concentration in American History and minored in Archaeology and Spanish. I write about all things history including my work in the field and all things relating to presenting the past to a public audience. I also love coffee, baking, books, sitcoms, and 90's rom-coms. I live in my native eastern North Carolina with my husband and our dog Dia.

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