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Saving Black Lives in Gilded Age Pittsburgh (Part 2 of 3): Livingstone Memorial Hospital

Around the time that Lincoln Memorial Hospital closed its doors, the idea for a new Colored hospital in the Greater Pittsburgh region emerged.

Livingstone Memorial Hospital was first started as an association by prominent Black Pittsburgh doctors, clergymen, attorneys, community activists, and concerned citizens. It was named after the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”).

The original officers of the Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association were:

In 1915, Attorney William M. Randolph gave a speech on why a Colored hospital was needed at Trinty Baptist Church in Lawrenceville for the Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association, and the Association began to look for adequate space. A 1916 Article from the Pittsburgh Press indicates that the original location selected was in the building of the General Emergency Hospital at 358 Collins Avenue in East Liberty. The hospital secured $100,000 for the facility, and the project was backed by prominent Black physicians of the Medico-Odonto-Pharmaco organization, including Dr. George Turfley, who formerly worked at Lincoln Memorial Hospital.

By 1919, the Association moved its interests to the Hill District, simultaneously working on acquiring the space at 2816 Wylie Avenue, which formerly housed the Coleman Industrial Home for Colored Boys, and turning it into a free dispensary and searching for a new hospital site. With the election and leadership of Dr. Charles H. Carroll, a 1906 Western Pennsylvania

University (now known as the University of Pittsburgh) medical school graduate as president, the Association acquired the Morgan Community House, the former site of the Kingsley House (now known as the Kingsley Association in East Liberty), in 1924. However, the leadership would be shaken up by the passing of Dr. George W. Strickland of pneumonia in 1925 and the sudden death by heart attack of Dr. J.H. Hall in 1926.

The Morgan Community Site/The Kingsley House

By 1927, community members, including Robert L. Vann the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, became weary of waiting for a hospital to be erected. The Pittsburgh Courier published several editorials and op-eds expressing dismay that the hospital would ever open, and Vann resigned as a board member the same year.

In 1930, the Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association sought to purchase the old Montefiore Hospital site on Centre Avenue. However, The Pittsburgh Courier stated that the City of Pittsburgh stopped the hospital's operation until it was made usable. In turn, another known African American physician, Dr. John B. Booz, offered to give the Association a location at 2600 Brackenridge Street to open a smaller-scale hospital or clinic until the necessary updates and repairs could be made on Montefiore.

In 1931, The Social Conditions of the Negro in the Hill District was published by the General Committee on the Hill Survey, which was conducted under the supervision of Ira De A. Reid, the Director of Research of the National Urban League. The study showed dire statistics: African Americans had higher death rates than Whites, most African Americans died between the ages of 35-39, and the wards with the highest numbers of Black mortalities were the 3rd (the Southside) and the 5th (Hill District). The studies confirmed what African Americans already knew: cramped living quarters, proximity to the air and water pollution caused by the steel mills, and inadequate access to proper medical care equaled a short life for most.

Even with these statistics, Livingstone Memorial Hospital struggled to become operational. The why’s are mostly unknown; however, infighting and difficulty acquiring a space up to code with the city could have been the reasons. African American residents and community activists became increasingly agitated as the years continued to roll on without a functional hospital to which many had contributed their hard-earned money. This put members of the board and the media at odds. In 1934, Congressman Henry Ellenbogen urged the Association to take out a government loan with the Public Works Administration to make the hospital a reality. My research indicates that either did not happen or the loan was denied.

In 1935, Livingstone Memorial Hospital was renamed the Carroll-King Sanitarium after two of the doctors on the board: Dr. Charles H. Carroll and Dr. D.G. King. The association that organization funding still went by Livingstone Memorial, and the request for a negro hospital continued. In 1936, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and a famous racketeer, proposed a boxing match between famous boxers, Al Gainer and John Henry Lewis or the benefit of the association.

Front Page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recounting the Lewis-Gainer bout.

Greenlee, however, had stipulations: the fight had to be held at Greenlee Field, and it had to be promoted by the Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association. These stipulations were unmet because the contest was held on Thursday, July 30, 1936, at Forbes Field and was promoted by Elwood Rigby and Jacob Mintz. John Henry Lewis was declared the winner.

Dr. John B. Booz, the physician that offered the Brackenridge Street building and one of the founding members of the Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association, passed away in 1938. In 1939, The Livingstone Memorial Hospital Association merged with the Pittsburgh Interracial Hospital Association. Although the merger was made to bolster success, the hospital would never materialize. Dr. Charles H. Carroll died on September 5, 1948. In 1950, the Carroll-King Sanitarium was put up for auction. The 1950s saw the Civil Rights Movement create change, and the 1954 ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education sent a death blow to segregation in schools with the effects rippling across all social stratospheres. This included hospitals.



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