The Way It Was


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Photograph courtesy of the Burton Historical Society

1930 Detroit’s population spiked after World War I, and the need for additional health care was vital. The problem was particularly acute for the city’s African-American population; many hospitals wouldn’t hire black doctors or even treat black patients. So out of necessity, a group of African-American doctors, led by James W. Ames, founded Dunbar Memorial Hospital in 1918. The group, called the Allied Medical Society (now the Detroit Medical Society, or DMS), opened the doors of the nonprofit hospital in 1919 in a large Romanesque Revival home built in 1892 on Frederick in Midtown. The hospital, which had 27 beds and an operating room, was named for the black poet/novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). There was also an associated nursing school. In 1928, the hospital outgrew its home and moved to Brush Street and eventually changed its name to Parkside Hospital, which operated until the early 1960s. The hospital’s doctors, nurses, and trustee board posed for this image in 1930. The Parkside edifice was razed, but the original Dunbar Hospital at 580 Frederick still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the City of Detroit’s Frederick Avenue Historic District. The DMS purchased the building in the 1970s, and it served as its administrative headquarters and museum for several years. According to a 2014 Detroit News report, DMS vacated the building after pipes burst in the home in 2010. Wayne County foreclosed on the property and it was put up for auction, but DMS regained ownership after the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department canceled its lien.

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