Legacy of “Katie B” Saluted
A once trusted medical facility that provided care for generations of African Americans in East Winston has received long overdue recognition. A historical marker was dedicated Saturday for Kate Bitting Reynolds Memorial Hospital, at the intersection of North Cleveland Avenue and East Seventh Street, where the facility had stood for decades.
Dozens of attendees sat under the shade provided by trees beside the Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center on the hot summer day. The Center faces the site of the former hospital.
A long list of speakers praised and reminisced about the hospital, which was affectionally known as “Katie B.”
“Katie B was born August the 10th, 1938 and Katie B. died January 16th, 1970,” said Dr. Willard McCloud, a retired physician who worked there. “It was born in controversy; it lived in controversy, and it died in controversy. But during the 32 years of its existence, it performed very well despite its inabilities.”
When the hospital was founded, black patients were housed and treated in the north wing of the City Memorial Hospital, which closed in 1964, and could only be treated by white physicians. Local black doctors, who weren’t allowed to treat their patients in the hospital because of segregation, staged a sit-in in protest of the policy on the steps of City Hall.
Dr. Harvey Allen, a retired physician and surgeon who also worked at Katie B, remembered how his father, Dr. H.T. Allen, who was president of the Twin City Medical Society, brought the issue before the mayor and City Council.
“My daddy went downtown and talked to the mayor,” recalled Allen. “He said ‘Mr. Mayor, the city of Winston-Salem is not treating the black physicians like the white physicians.’”
As a result of the controversy, the Kate Bitting Reynolds Memorial Hospital was opened in 1938 for the treatment of black patients and the education of black medical students. It was built on land donated by the City and constructed with funds donated by W.N. Reynolds, a brother of R.J. Reynolds whose wife the hospital was named for, and the Duke Foundation. After a 1939 expansion, the hospital had 221 patient beds and 75 beds in its student nursing dormitory, making it the third largest hospital for African Americans in the country.
In the beginning, the hospital’s black doctors and nurses answered to white superiors, a fact that resulted in more controversy. By 1946, the hospital was under black administrative leadership. All departments were staffed by black employees, including the physicians and surgeons on the attending medical staff.
Katie B holds a special place in Beverly Watson’s heart. She was born there and served as a volunteer at the facility as a teenager. Watson said she was inspired by what she saw to enroll in the hospital’s medical school program. She worked at Katie B as an operating room circulation nurse before going on to further her education.
“Katie B was the perfect place for me,” said Watson, who has been a nurse anesthetist since 1976.
The aging Katie B closed in 1970 and was torn down. Reynolds Memorial Hospital was soon constructed to replace it, but that facility did not last long. By the early ’70s, integration made it possible for blacks to been seen at the new Forsyth Memorial Hospital. Reynolds Memorial could not compete with Forsyth Memorial.
The facility continued to serve low income patients as Reynolds Health Center into the 1980s and 1990s. The facility finally closed about a decade ago when Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center opened its Downtown Health Plaza a short distance away. The Reynolds Health Center building now houses the Forsyth County Department of Social Services.
To keep Katie B’s memory alive, former students and employees hold a reunion every year. The marker ceremony took place during this year’s reunion. The hospital is a source of local pride, even after all these decades, said Jacqueline Howell, the reunion president who met her husband while attending school at Katie B.
“Katie B impacted the lives of anyone who walked through its doors whether you were a student, whether you were a patient, whether you worked there, anyone who walked through the door of Katie B,” said Howell, who became a nurse and medical instructor.
The Katie B marker is one of more 20 that the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission has placed to highlight the history of the city and county. Commission Chair Mark Maxwell said the former hospital was definitely worthy of the recognition. “The Kate Bittings Memorial Hospital maker idea came to us about a year ago,” said Maxwell. “We sat in a meeting with members of the community and heard their stories and were so excited and impacted by those stories … we felt strongly that this particular site deserved to have this marker for 2012.”
Other speakers at the dedication included Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, N.C. Rep. Earline Parmon and Joycelyn Johnson, who delivered greetings from N.C. Rep. Larry Womble.