May 6, 2013

Third Ward History

Construction of the Houston Negro Hospital
Construction of the Houston Negro Hospital
Exterior of Houston Negro Hospital
Completion of the Houston Negro Hospital

In the early 1920s, the need for a new African American hospital became clear to the Houston community and its physicians.  Dr. Benjamin Covington and four other Houston doctors addressed that need by establishing the Houston Negro Hospital in Houston's Third Ward.  Joseph Cullinan, a successful oilman who had founded Texas Company (later Texaco), donated $80,000 to the group in 1923 to help fund this landmark institution.

The hospital opened to patients on May 14, 1927, 86 years ago, and provided a place for African American physicians, who were not allowed to admit patients to the African American wards in Houston’s other hospitals, to practice medicine and train students and nurses. It initially operated on an “insurance” system in which individuals and families paid a yearly subscription which entitled them to treatment. The hospital’s early years were difficult, with problems that included a lack of patients and dissension among and between the hospital’s two boards, one African American and one white.

Throughout the 20th century the hospital underwent many changes, including the elimination of the insurance system. In 1961 the hospital was renamed Riverside General Hospital, and in 1984 the building underwent historical renovations. The original hospital building and the School of Nursing building are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and Riverside General Hospital still operates today, primarily as a substance abuse center.  This hospital stands as the only remaining historically black hospital in the United States today.

The hospital was the first nonprofit hospital for African Americans in Houston, and these varied documents provide insight into the founding, construction, initial problems, and political and social forces at play during its early years. These documents are compiled in our Joseph S. Cullinan Papers Collection which are found at the UH Digital Library.

Opening ceremonies of the Houston Negro Hospital
The Dedication Ceremony On Juneteenth 1926

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