In the late 1930s and early 1940s, The Asheville Citizen featured a weekly Monday column titled “Excerpts From Sermons Preached Here Sunday.” On Feb. 10, 1941, the paper highlighted the Rev. C. Grier Davis’ sermon at First Presbyterian Church. Davis’ talk focused on race relations in Asheville and the urgent need for greater medical access for the city’s African-American residents.
“Recently the editor of The Asheville Citizen has called our attention to the criminal neglect of our community with respect to the negroes in our city. There are about 14,500 negroes in Asheville. For them we have provided 21 hospital beds. This means that there is one hospital bed for every 700 negroes. This deplorable condition is seen in its true light when we are reminded that we have provided one hospital bed for every 120 of the white population.”
On March 30, 1941, the Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times offered further details on the limited medical options for the city’s black population. The paper noted, “Many times physicians with negro patients have to wait for months to get a hospital bed for a major operative case.” Meanwhile, no beds were available in the city for African-American women in need of obstetric care. The article continued:
“The community has been astir about this problem for years, but nothing seemed to get done about it. Among other reasons for this are deep racial prejudice and the negro’s amazing willingness and capacity to put up with trouble and survive under the worst possible conditions.”
While issues remained bleak, the article’s main focus was on a “novel group medicine plan,” created by Dr. Mary Frances Shuford. For 25 cents a week, the city’s African-American population would be covered by an in-house insurance policy. According to the paper, Shuford had been working with the city’s African-American population for over three years amid “criticisms and difficulties galore.” More recently, the paper continued, Shuford had been asked to leave her previous downtown office because “too many negroes were hanging around and the other tenants didn’t like that.”
The new facility, the paper continued, would offer health services, as well as educational courses and lectures for its patients.
In May 1941, Shuford opened the site at 269 College St. By the summer of 1942, the facility was reorganized into the Asheville Colored Hospital. Capacity, however, remained limited with only 12 beds.
On Dec. 27, 1942, the Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times reported on a potential new location for the hospital at 185 Biltmore Ave. If funds could be raised to purchase the site, the facility would triple the total number of beds currently allotted. “That money should come swiftly and spontaneously from the white people of this community,” the paper declared. “Negro citizens should not be denied the privilege of contributing but we of the white race should accept it as our job and our opportunity.”
Over the next year, donations gradually came in. By April 1943, Merchant Construction Co. was awarded the contract for renovating the space at 185 Biltmore Ave. The hospital would open on Oct. 21.
A year later, The Asheville Citizen recognized the hospital’s one-year anniversary, noting its 37 beds had been filled since the hospital’s opening. Amenities included delivery and emergency rooms, operating and sterilizing rooms, and six bathrooms.
The paper went on to proclaim:
“The opening of the hospital was an event of keen interest not only to the negroes of Asheville; it was a community-wide project, to which scores of organizations, groups and individuals of both races contributed time, work and money. Charles A. Webb headed the campaign which raised the $25,000 fund that made the purchase of the hospital building possible. …
“After a year of operation the hospital has taken its place among the public-serving institutions to which the community points with pride.”
According to Ann Wright, North Carolina Room librarian, the hospital was transferred to Mission Hospital on Jan. 10, 1951, as part of a consolidation. That same year, notes Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Register of Deeds, the hospital’s former property at 185 Biltmore Ave. was sold to Jesse Ray Funeral Home. It would later serve as Eugene Ellison’s law office before being razed in 2015 after Julia Ray sold the building to a limited liability company based out of Florida. The location now stands as a parking lot.
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation as well as antiquated and offensive language are preserved from the original documents.