Updated: Feb 25
Good Shephard Hospital opened in 1938 and Carol Bonner Becton tells its story. Originally published in the 2019 New Bern Historical Society Annual Journal, this story was republished in February 2020 by the New Bern Sun Journal.
When it came to hospital care, up until 1938 persons of color in New Bern effectively had none. Jim Crow racial prejudice was strong. Local hospitals only admitted Negros in cases of extreme emergency. As noted historian Gertrude Carraway observed, the nearest hospital for Negro patients was eighty miles away (Gertrude Carraway, Crown of Life: History of Christ Church, New Bern, NC 1715 – 1940, New Bern, O.G. Dunn, 1940, p. 214). This situation was finally rectified when Good Shepard Hospital opened in 1938. Although Good Shepherd existed as a hospital for African Americans in New Bern for only twenty-six years, its existence leaves behind a legacy that vividly entwines the effects and tells a story of “the best of times and the worst of times” in the history of our nation, our state, and the city of New Bern.
The genesis of Good Shepard Hospital came out of the “Great Fire of 1922.” The fire resulted in over a thousand homes, business, and churches being burned, and left thousands homeless and hundreds needing medical attention for injuries and illnesses. The majority of those affected by the devastation of the fire were Negros, and there was no hospital to provide care to the hundreds needing medical treatment.
The Reverend R. I. Johnson, rector of the fairly new ten-year-old St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, opened the doors of the church serve as an emergency hospital for the victims of this disastrous fire. Local doctors and other community leaders pitched in to provide medical care, food and other assistance. In the midst of this tragic time a baby boy was born in this “Emergency Hospital” and his parents named him St. Cyprian Emergency Dillahunt. St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church served as an emergency hospital for at least four months.
Following this tragedy, Reverend Johnson recognized that the dire need for medical facilities for Negroes in New Bern and surrounding areas had to be addressed. He then dedicated his efforts toward providing basic hospital care for the black community.
Starting a hospital was in no way a small feat. A committee was formed. Reverend Johnson approached the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina requesting and receiving permission to solicit, funds. Eventually the Dioceses of Pennsylvania gave $25,000; next the Duke Endowment contributed $15,000; and the Diocese of East Carolina gave $10,000. There were many other large and small donations from local and area communities, organizations and citizens. Among some of the donations was land donated by Reverend Edward Forbes. In addition special church services were held to raise funds, and special offering days were set aside in both white and Negro churches to help with fund raising.
Fifteen years after the Great Fire the dream of Reverend Johnson, “the good shepherd,” finally was realized. Good Shepherd Hospital opened on June 26, 1938 as a 58 bed cottage-styled hospital located at 603 West Street on property that had been left to the Episcopal Diocese by Reverend Forbes. The building and equipment cost $70,000, or approximately $1,300,000 in 2019 dollars (Carraway, Crown of Life). It was a full service hospital. At the time of the opening it had both black and white staff. The black doctors were Dr. Hunter Fisher, Dr. William Martin, and Dr. William Mann. Noted white doctors involved were Dr. H.B. Wadsworth, Dr. R.N. Duffy, Dr. O.A. Kafer and Dr. C.H. Ashford.
Good Shepard served the Negro community well during its twenty-six years of operation. Black nurses were recruited from black nursing programs across the state, such as St. Agnes Hospital in Raleigh, Lincoln Hospital in Durham, and Kate B. Reynolds Hospital in Winston-Salem. It was fully accredited by both black and white medical associations, achieving an “A” rating by the NC Medical Care Commission. Under the leadership of Mr. Ozie T. Faison, who served for many years as Superintendent of Good Shepherd Hospital, it was accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. Mr. Faison commented at the time on how “shocked” the visiting officials were that a small institution with limited amount of money could do what Good Shepherd had done.
Good Shepard had departments including X-ray labs, operating rooms, delivery rooms, a nursery, an infectious disease clinic, and an outpatient clinic. As often noted by outside agencies, “a good taste and attractiveness” seemed to be a part of Good Shepherd’s therapy.
Good Shepard had outstanding leadership. In addition to the leadership of Ozie T. Faison, noted Craven County Medical Director, Dr. Sidney Barnwell, oversaw Good Shepherd Hospital’s transition from a private hospital into the public Craven County Health System. In 1954, a native New Bernian, Dr. Lula Disosway, returned home to serve as a medical director until it closed in 1964. (See the article “Gallant Lady: Dr. Lula M. Disosway” in this issue, page 69).
A good sense of the range of services provided by Good Shepard and its impact on the community is provided by the report submitted by Dr. Disosway for the month of September, 1962, believed to be representative of monthly activity in the latter years of the hospital’s operations. A few highlights, as seen in the accompanying exhibit, were that in this one month 224 patients were treated, 184 discharged of whom 138 were full pay and 46 were treated for free, and the average patients per day was 34. Forty-eight babies were delivered.
With the end of segregation and after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Craven County Hospital opened it doors to all, and Good Shepard closed as a hospital. The facility now operates as “Good Shepard Home for the Aged.”
The history of Good Shepard provides an outstanding example of how the black and white residents of New Bern have on occasion been able to overcome racial prejudice and accomplish great things.