WILMINGTON -- Black History Month may be over but there are more stories to be told about our area's history and how many people and places made a difference. We look at how two people overcame obstacles to make an impact in the medical field. The first Community Hospital opened in 1920, followed by a nursing school six years later. After many years the memory of the school still lives in Wilmington locals today. Thelma Briggs has spent a lifetime taking care of others, working as a registered nurse for 50 years. As a young nursing student in 1950 Briggs received her training from Wilmington's Community Hospital, the only hospital serving solely African American patients at the time. Briggs said, "I went into nursing and I'm delighted that I did and I think that was my calling." The hospital once stood on S. 11th Street, which has now been replaced by this historical marker and stone memorial. "We needed an institution for them to practice, and we needed an institution that could be more inclusive of care for African Americans in the community," Briggs said. During segregation Community Hospital was separate but definitely not equal. Many times African American physicians and nurses had to cope with insufficient medical equipment and crowded rooms of sick patients, which made for an intense training ground for students. "We had a lot of responsibility that the students bore that they got so much training," Briggs said. "We did not have all the things we needed, we had to more or less compensate and make do." Former student Jimmie Willis agrees. He said, "We learned how to observe and take advantage of what we had." Both Willis and Briggs just have memories and a few keepsakes to hold onto from Community Hospital. They remember the training and life lessons they learned, while forgetting about a divided past. "I think we are serving and race doesn't make that much of a difference to us." Community Hospital closed its doors in 1967 when an integrated New Hanover Memorial Hospital opened its doors.
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