Service Inequality in Mecklenburg County

Elected officials of Charlotte have long held the belief that Charlotte is a “New South” city. One which has removed itself from the issues of systemic racism and inequality that have plagued many other cities in the South. However, one can argue that this is not the case. Many predominantly African American neighborhoods have had issues regarding gentrification and unequal service provision over the history of Charlotte, especially following the Civil Rights Movement. This exhibit tells a story of unlit streets and missing infrastructure, a lack of available healthcare, a lack of clean running water, and a lack of sanitation perpetuated by a board of city council members that had at best apathy, and at worst disdain, for their African American residents. While there are many ways in which this story can be told, this exhibit endeavors to focus on the infrastructure of the city of Charlotte such as the Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now operated by Atrium Health as the Carolina Medical Center) and the Good Samaritan Hospital (leveled to make way for the Bank of America Stadium), for how can we call Charlotte a shining example to other Southern cities without first understanding what lies buried under its foundation?

Short Video Documentaries

Transcripts for Short Documentaries

Charlotte Memorial Hospital:

The Charlotte Memorial Hospital has been the largest hospital in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area since its construction. This hospital became the subject of a debate around desegregation and oversight in the 1961 mayoral race through the candidate Martha Evans. Evans argued that “The hospital authority was a self-perpetuating board that received public money but was not accountable to the public or the public’s elected representatives.” Evans also argued that because the hospital had done a generally good job, nobody before Evans had seriously challenged the process.

In 1962, protests began, kicking off a public debate to integrate healthcare in Mecklenburg County. The Charlotte Memorial Hospital officially desegregated in 1963, however, hospital authority postponed the treatment of minorities until the facility expanded to a size where it could admit patients from all backgrounds. Other regional hospitals were forced to desegregate in 1964 when desegregation of public accommodations became law through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following the law, persistent segregation became a matter of public embarrassment. It should be noted that the local government had the power to enforce desegregation, but instead chose not to.

Good Samaritan Hospital:

The Good Samaritan Hospital of Charlotte opened in 1891 and was one of the first black hospitals in the US. This hospital did not come as a result of efforts from Mecklenburg County elected officials. Instead, the Good Samaritan Hospital was funded through philanthropic donations from members of the Good Samaritan Church, as well as private funds raised by Jane Wilkes.

At the time of its creation medical treatment was often met with skepticism and hesitancy from African American communities. However, this prejudice and fear of medical treatment disappeared gradually upon observing the necessity of the hospital, and many went on the give patronage and financial support. The Good Samaritan Hospital over time became an important part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s African American community identity and was viewed as a sign of the region’s progressive policies until challenges regarding segregation began.


Smithville, an African American community located west of Cornelius was once the center of a sanitation crisis in Mecklenburg County in the 1960s. On December 14, 1967, a newspaper article titled “Germtown USA,” was published by the local newspaper Charlotte News. Within the article was a description of the unsanitary conditions in Smithville. Reporter Pat Stith noted that due to a layer of impervious clay soil, the Mecklenburg Health Department was unable to accommodate the number of septic tanks required for the houses in such a dense settlement. Due to the lack of septic tanks, many homes had only outdoor solutions like privies, and some homes had neither. The article concludes by stating that the Mecklenburg Health Department “chose not to enforce the law.”

Following the publication of this article the town of Cornelius met to discuss implementing a long-term solution. The mayor of Cornelius did not agree to bring the area up to the standards of the town, fearing that the large initial expenditures would require raising taxes for the residents of Cornelius. County Commission Chair James Martin met with the mayor and the health director, ultimately considering funding options for a community sewer system. However, the only major change to come from this article was a short-term decision to charge six residents for failing to use appropriate sanitary sewage disposal. This problem was not unique to Smithville, as other African American communities such as Pottstown, Crestdale, and Sterling also suffered from similar sanitation concerns.

Narratives and Short Stories:

Disproportionate service, Protests, and African American Doctors at Charlotte Memorial Hospital

Before Charlotte officials heralded the city as a “New South” city, Charlotte was the center of a large series of protests regarding hospital integration during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At its center was the issue of how Charlotte Memorial Hospital, the largest hospital in Charlotte, addressed concerns regarding segregation in healthcare provision. While one can argue that the issue of segregated healthcare became of public interest far earlier than the Civil Rights Movement for the purpose of this project most protests occurred after 1954 when the Mecklenburg County Medical Society which represented the Charlotte area dropped its racial requirements for the practice of medicine, and Dr. Emery L. Rann became the first African American physician for the area.

While the Charlotte Memorial Hospital had done good work treating numerous patients with the 290 beds it had at its disposal since its opening in 1940, outrage and dissatisfaction came from the African American community upon finding out how the hospital administration had planned to fund its latest expansion. The city of Charlotte had agreed to fund the creation of these 290 beds through a bond, under the condition that part of the bond money would be used for the improvement of hospital facilities for African Americans, despite Charlotte Memorial Hospital being projected as a “white only” facility. However, these improvements never came. Additionally, the Charlotte Memorial Hospital became the subject of several investigations when in 1957 a four-million-dollar bond (42 million adjusted for inflation) was given to the Charlotte Memorial Hospital for new construction and additional beds. These additions were also funded through an additional two million dollars from the Hill-Burton Fund, which further raised expectations from the African American community. Again, treatment was withheld for African Americans until the conclusion of construction, sparking a lawsuit and several protests until the issue of a segregated Charlotte Memorial Hospital was resolved in August of 1963.

On March 30, 1960, Dr. Reginal A. Hawkins, a practicing dentist, and ordained minister sued the North Carolina Dental Society as a protest against their racial exclusion policy. The statute which gave the Dental Society the right to elect the State Board of Dental Examiners was later repealed. In 1962 the new wing at the Charlotte Memorial Hospital was completed and at this time the hospital had received more than five million dollars from the Hill-Burton fund for the construction costs. However, the hospital remained segregated, and this led to even more dissatisfaction from the African American community. An investigation into the plans to desegregate the new wing had been launched by Dr. Arthur S. Flemming, secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, before the wing’s completion and found no issues with either the lack of treatment for African Americans nor the sparse plans for desegregation regarding the new wing. The African American community upon hearing this decision feared that the current approach would not provide desired results, and protests followed shortly thereafter.

On March 3, 1962, a protest involving a group of students from Johnson C. Smith University led by Dr. Reginald Hawkins occurred. These students picketed four Charlotte hospitals including Presbyterian, the Charlotte Memorial Hospital, Mercy, and the Good Samaritan Hospital for segregated facilities for several hours that afternoon. Some of the signs held read “This Hospital was Built on a Rock of Segregation” and “Is this Christian tradition? Segregated Hospitals?”.On March 24, 1962, around 60 people held a short prayer service on the lawn of the Charlotte Memorial Hospital. This protest and prayer were also led and organized by Dr. Hawkins, and the local news stated that the protest was not violent and offered prayers of love, not hatred. However, these protests had no effect, and by June of 1962, Dr. Hawkins had developed a new strategy for desegregation in Charlotte Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Hawkins, now a prominent leader of protests regarding hospital segregation, wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and requested that the US Department of Justice investigate charges of possible collusion in the administration of Hill-Burton funds in hospitals based in the Charlotte area. Hawkins specifically asked, “Why were these hospitals not required to live up to the non-discrimination provision of title six of the Hill-Burton Act?”.It is important to note that by this time the Charlotte Memorial Hospital had 475 beds, of which only 38 were designated for African Americans. Mercy hospital had 32 beds for African Americans, and Presbyterian hospital did not even admit African Americans for treatment at all. Yet each of these hospitals received funding from the Hill-Burton Fund. On August 15, 1962, several officials of the US Public Health Service found “two specific areas in which Charlotte Memorial Hospital did not offer service to African American patients,”.On that same day hospital administrator John W. Rankin spoke in detail and publicly about their policy regarding the African American community of Charlotte stating “the doors are open to any and all,”. On September 10, 1962, both the maternity ward and dental clinic of Charlotte Memorial Hospital were ordered desegregated, and by 1962 the Medical Advisory Council of Charlotte Memorial Hospital voted unanimously to remove all racial barriers to African American doctors becoming members of the staff. Following an additional investigation led by Dr. Hawkins in August of 1963 Charlotte Memorial Hospital officially offered the same admission policies to both African American and White patients, bringing an end to protests regarding the disproportionate healthcare provision policies of the Charlotte healthcare system.

The Good Samaritan Hospital and the Unfortunate Necessity of Philanthropy

The Good Samaritan Hospital of Charlotte was one of the first Black hospitals in the US and officially opened its doors in 1891. It is important to note that this hospital was not constructed from the funds or efforts of elected Mecklenburg County officials and was instead paid for and built with private donations and funds raised by Jane Wilkes and her family. After the hospital had been established, additional funding for service and operating costs were raised through church philanthropy within the African American community of Charlotte, primarily from the Good Samaritan Church. At the time of its creation medical treatment was often met with skepticism and hesitancy from African American communities. However, this prejudice and fear of medical treatment disappeared gradually upon observing the necessity of the hospital, and many went on the give patronage and financial support. The Good Samaritan Hospital over time became an important part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s African American community identity and was viewed as a sign of the region’s progressive policies until challenges regarding segregation began.

One can argue that the Good Samaritan Hospital became an important part of the African American community of Charlotte due to its lengthy timeline of service provision. In 1903 the Good Samaritan Hospital opened its own School of Nursing, and in 1911 a train accident in Richmond County brought an influx of eighty-one patients as well as prestige to the hospital for its efforts. Additionally, Charlotte’s first documented lynching occurred at the Good Samaritan Hospital when an angry white mob forcefully removed Joe McNeely from his hospital bed, shooting him in the street. In 1961 the Good Samaritan Hospital was sold to the city and renamed the Charlotte Community Hospital, only to be closed and renovated into Magnolias Rest Home in 1982. Finally, the building was demolished to build the Bank of America Stadium in 1996. This action caused widespread mistrust of Charlotte’s elected officials from the African American community and sparked additional concerns regarding gentrification in the early 2000s.

Sanitation issues in Black neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County

The provision of services regarding sanitation became increasingly important to the Mecklenburg County government as the area developed from rural farms to a modernized, more populated area between the 1960s and 1980s. This push for modernization revealed a racially biased disparity of sewer service between the many communities within Mecklenburg County. Questions regarding how to handle these small communities suffering from poverty and ineffective utilities and sewer services arose and in 1967 the public had decided that the responsibility of addressing such a problem belonged to the town governments.

On December 14, 1967, a front-page story regarding these substandard locations was published in the Charlotte News. The article titled “Germtown USA” was written by Pat Stith, who noted that the impervious clay soil beneath Cornelius could not accommodate the required number of septic tanks, ultimately forcing black neighborhoods like Smithville, Pottstown, Crestdale, and Sterling to use outdoor utilities like privies. In Some cases these communities lacked any access to clean water, often having to travel to houses using dirt roads for any sort of sanitary sewage disposal. Despite public outcry, the Mecklenburg Health Department chose not to enforce proper sanitation laws following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Issues regarding the installation of a new sewage system in Smithville were addressed through federal grants in support of local improvements, and in the early 1980s, the County of Mecklenburg was given funding to extend sewer and water lines to the neglected communities. However, these actions were seen as being too little and too late, leading to frustration and anger towards the town of Cornelius from Black communities who resented the local government for not “taking them in when they needed them.” Smithville was officially annexed to Cornelius in 1980.

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