Saturday 6 April 2024

Today in Hampton History

1966 - The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reverses a lower court decision and orders Dixie Hospital to reinstate the employment of nurses Mildred Smith, Patricia Taylor (McKenzie), and Agnes Stokes (Chisman), and awards them full back pay.

In August 1963, the three Black nurses had decided to eat lunch in the new, spacious whites-only cafeteria of the hospital rather than in the cramped basement classroom designated for non-whites. The three women were fired on the second day of their sit-in and sued the hospital for racial discrimination.

Smith later said that, like Rosa Parks, she was tired of “taking a back seat” and wanted to mount a stand against segregation of hospital employees. Shortly after firing the three women, Dixie Hospital ended its policy of cafeteria segregation but refused to re-hire the three nurses.

In 1964, the U.S. District Court in Newport News dismissed their suit on the grounds that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply retroactively to the nurses’ protest the year before. However, the Appeals Court found that the nurses’ constitutional rights had been violated. The case was argued by lawyer William Alfred Smith of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. A separate 1960s lawsuit fought racial segregation among patients admitted to Dixie Hospital.

Photo by Benjamin Smith, New Journal and Guide, Aug 17, 1963

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