St. Jude Children’s Research Center opened its doors in Memphis, Tenn. on February 4, 1962, but it opened several other doors as well. While the hospital is universally recognized as the first fully-integrated children’s hospital in the South, it was also one of the first facilities to allow African-American and white staff to administer care to patients of all races.
The hospital’s approach to hiring staff was also novel, as many facilities in the South wouldn’t hire African-Americans in higher-level staff positions even if they were qualified or held degrees. The racial inclusiveness that St. Jude’s prided itself on took hold in Memphis, most famously when the hospital’s director battled with a local hotel.
The director attempted to strike a deal with a segregated hotel to allow African-American patients and their families stay there. The hotel pushed back by saying that the families could stay there but only if they agreed to eat dinner inside their rooms and not a shared dining room. The director stated that if African-American families and patients couldn’t use the hotel, then no patient from St. Jude’s would use it either.
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