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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Unhealthy conditions in black area of a segregated hospital

Williams remembers the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Black patients were treated in the basement, and Williams remembers that newborn infants spent their first hours in the basement's utility room, the same room where nurses emptied bedpans. Neglect was not limited to black infants; Williams recalls that standards were very lax in the black section of the hospital, with nurses performing many duties restricted to doctors in the white section on the upper floors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

When Robert and I first got married I got a job working at the Ellen Fitzgerald Hospital.
DAVID CECELSKI:
The black—or, no—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
It was a hospital where black people were in the basement, admitted to the basement of the hospital. And white people were on the upper level. I learned a lot there. I learned a lot about this society there because I worked there in different capacities. I worked there as a nurse's aide. And I worked there a maid. And I worked there as a cook. And I learned a lot about the hurtfulness of the segregation system at that time. In the basement of Ellen Fitzgerald Hospital, the floors were cement. The plumbing that took care of the hospital was exposed over the patient rooms. And the babies were placed in a utility room. Newborn babies were placed in a utility room where we had to empty the bedpans, and wash them out and sterilize the needles. And I can see it this day. They had a couple of bassinets they would put in there, in the utility room.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And even at that time you did not just say—you know [unclear] . Well, this is—it was accepted as just part of the general, second class racist society. Even then you were—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
I was accepting to it because I was very grateful to have a job at that time. However, I began to see the differences that I had not seen before because as a maid I had to go on all floors of the hospital for cleaning. And when I went on the—. I don't remember if it was the second or the third floor. And I went into the—. No. I wasn't allowed into the nursery itself. But there was a nursery there with nurses working inside the nursery with masks on. And the babies were put in the nursery and then taken out of the nursery by a nurse, and taken to the mothers when they were, you know, after the babies were born. While on the basement floor, the babies were taken away from the mothers by nurses or nurse's aides. They even allowed us to do that. And they were taken into the utility room where we washed out the bedpans and emptied the bedpans into the utility room. And as a maid I began to see that. And that was just horrible. I remember—
DAVID CECELSKI:
Pretty hard to forget.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah, yeah.
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. We're talking about little children who are being exposed to germs that could be life threatening. The needles that were being—we put in this autoclave or whatever it was called, to sterilize. We'd take them in there after the doctors or nurses had used them. We'd take them into this utility room to sterilize them. Well that's where the babies were. The bedpans with the waste matter we'd take into the utility room and that's where our blacks babies were in that utility room. So that became one of the most hurtful things that I encountered.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And you had a baby at that time, didn't you?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
No. I was expecting a baby. I was expecting a child.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And you were thinking—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes, yes. My children were born at home, thank God, with black doctors. At the time, if I remember correctly, I don't know if they didn't allow black doctors in the hospital or that the black doctor—we only had one black doctor at the time. And that was Dr. Creft—or that he just didn't go in the hospital. Before that hospital was abandoned, he did go there. And Dr. Perry did go there. Dr. Perry who became one of our civil rights fighters, did go in that basement and did work with those patients in that hospital. But they never—that society never did change that—the position of black people in that hospital. When that hospital was—as far as I know—when that hospital was—. When I left that hospital it was still that way. Black people could only be in the basement. And one of the white surgeons down there, Dr. Fulk—. Most of our people thought that, oh, he was the greatest thing since God. He was a good doctor. Everybody said he was a great doctor, a great surgeon. But I remember hearing some white nurses talking one day. And they said that Dr. Fulk said he'd just as soon work on a dog as to work on a nigger. And that was hurtful. That was very hurtful. And the white doctors who maintained offices in Monroe had separate waiting rooms, of course, for black people. And when we went to—had to have a doctor, if we didn't go to a black doctor, and went to a white doctor, we had to go in separate waiting rooms. And they would wait until they had waited on all their white customers, patients, before they would wait on us. So that was another way of seeing that something's wrong here, you know. And I—that began to—it was just so hurtful to see what was happening to our people. They allowed nurses aides and maids in the Ellen Fitzgerald Hospital waiting on the black people there to do injections, and all kinds of things that when I was on the white floor only, I found, only licensed nurses could do.
DAVID CECELSKI:
It didn't matter downstairs?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
It didn't matter downstairs. And to this day I feel that that was a form of genocide. I feel that that was a form of genocide that they were actually using to curb our population or to—. Because they just didn't care. They just didn't care. And I'm not so sure that that mentality is not still there because I still don't get the feeling that they're caring about what happens to us anymore.
DAVID CECELSKI:
It's a very deep-rooted thing.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes. And, it's very hurtful.