This post has been reprinted with permission from Centenary Magazine (December 2022).
In the Archives: Touring the Legacies of Slavery
In November 2022, Centenary College of Louisana hosted the two-day conference, “Legacies of American Slavery: Race, Health, and Medicine.” As part of the conference, the Centenary Archives assisted with a local history tour and related exhibit that features sites connected to pioneering Black health care practitioners in Shreveport, including the conference’s community partner, Louisiana State University Health Shreveport. Helping create the tour and exhibit yielded impactful local stories, exciting research revelations, and benefitted from tapping into resources across multiple archives. The exhibit is accessible online.
The tour’s first stop at Oakland Cemetery (1000 Milam Street) visited the graves of Dr. Dickerson Alphonse Smith and his mother, Amanda Arnett Clark. Jayla Washington (biology major, Centenary class of ’23) shared the biography of Smith, who graduated medical school in 1892 and returned to his hometown of Shreveport as one of the city’s earliest documented Black physicians. In 1902, Smith helped establish the Amanda Clark Memorial Home, a residential facility for elderly Black people. Many of the residents were formerly enslaved persons like the home’s namesake, Smith’s mother. While researching Smith, we discovered his medical school graduation photograph appears within a collage of his classmates, accessible online. “Wow, thank you for bringing Dr. Smith to my attention. I have been trying to verify our early Black graduates,” emailed Nathalie Wheaton, archivist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.
The tour group then visited the Calanthean Temple (1007 Texas Avenue), constructed in 1923 by the Court of Calanthe, the women’s auxiliary of the Black lodge of the fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias. This building for Black businesses housed doctors’ offices, insurance companies, and a roof top garden that served as a venue for dances. Dr. Chris Ciocchetti (associate professor of philosophy at Centenary) provided details about physicians whose offices were located in the Calanthean—Drs. Mye Haddox, Leroy A. Jackson, and Julius A. Phillips. Information about these doctors regularly appeared in the Shreveport Sun newspaper, available in the Northwest Louisiana Archives at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
The group’s third stop was the former site of Turner Infirmary (1043 Texas Avenue). Jasmine Jones (biology major and Archives student worker, Centenary class of ’26) spoke about Dr. Sirporah Solinsky Turner, who graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville and returned to Shreveport in 1907. As the earliest known female Black doctor in the city, she founded the Turner Infirmary and Maternity Home, which included a training school for nurses. In 1920, she relocated to Los Angeles. During the tour, Jones shared, “As a Black woman in STEM, I thought it was important for me to be involved in this research on historic Black doctors to better understand my history.”
After driving past the former site of Shreveport’s Charity Hospital (1240 Texas Avenue), the tour visited that institution’s successor, Ochsner–Louisiana State University Health Shreveport (1541 Kings Highway). Holly Carter (biology major, Centenary class of ’23) provided a historical overview of the hospital beginning with its founding in 1875. Upon moving to the Kings Highway location in 1953, the facility was renamed Confederate Memorial Hospital. Throughout the 1970s, individuals recommended changing the name, and it became Louisiana State University Hospital of Shreveport in 1978. Carter also reflected on her upcoming enrollment at the institution’s medical school in fall 2023.
The Centenary Archives is pleased to have contributed to this project, which links our pre-medical students to professionals at Ochsner–LSU Health Shreveport, promotes recognition of local Black medical pioneers, and expands cooperation with other archives. Facilitating such projects use Shreveport’s history to inspire and guide Centenary students.
The “Legacies of American Slavery: Race, Health, and Medicine” conference was presented as part of the multi-year Legacies of American Slavery initiative of the Council of Independent Colleges, in cooperation with the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center, Yale University. It is supported by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation with supplemental funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Chris Brown is the Archivist of Centenary College of Louisiana. For more information about the tour and exhibit described here, contact Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.