2 months ago
The Central Carolina Convalescent Hospital had seven single-story wings with 134 beds. There was an operating room, rooms with iron lungs, rooms with wading pools and whirlpools — hydrotherapy was a popular treatment method — and a school so ill children could keep up with their studies. Families brought their young ones from all over the state for treatment.
Though most regular hospitals in the South were racially segregated, this one wasn’t. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which donated equipment, supplies and nurses, had a policy of caring for all children. Greensboro’s polio hospital also employed both blacks and whites.
In 1963, the old polio hospital was pressed back into service as the community dealt with another public emergency.
In May of that year, black youth — thousands of students from N.C. A&T, Bennett College and Dudley High School — took to downtown streets to force the city’s movie theaters, restaurants and motels to integrate. Police arrested hundreds.
But the students refused to leave jail. When jail cells filled up, authorities put students in makeshift detention centers — the county prison farm, a National Guard armory and, finally, the old polio hospital. Four hundred young people, many of them female students from Bennett, were packed into the old hospital. There weren’t enough beds or toilets or privacy. And everyone remembered the hospital’s original purpose.
“For the students, it was a particularly traumatic place to be held,” said Parsons, an assistant professor of history and UNCG’s director of public history.
After three weeks of daily protests and mass arrests, city leaders gave in and asked local businesses to serve black customers.
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