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From 11 Tremerton to Lowes

Revisiting history, or revisionist history?

From today's article in St. Augustine Record under byline of Peter Willott, about possible sale of county land to Lowes for a new store.

--- begin excerpt ---
Historian David Nolan said that the Health & Human Services Building has a rich history.
It once housed St. Augustine General Hospital and was built about 1964 by a group of 20 segregationist physicians so they wouldn't be required to integrate, he said.
These doctors left Flagler Hospital, at that time on Marine Street, and vowed not to accept federal money.
"They ran it for several years, until support for segregation ended," Nolan said. "It was built before the current Flagler Hospital." According to a memoir by Clyde Weeks, then chief administrator for Flagler Hospital, the hospital had only five physicians on staff at one point.
He began a national search for doctors to come to St. Augustine. "We were a divided medical community for a number of years," Weeks wrote, adding that the doctors who broke away wanted to see Flalger converted into a nursing home.
--- end excerpt ---

After-article comments:

1. I don't understand what he's saying (By Maureen Ortagus) "They ran it for several years, until support for segregation ended," Nolan said. "It was built before the current Flagler Hospital." What's the relationship?
Would someone please check on opinion and truth around here. The stories just keep getting bigger and bigger every day.

2. Bad info from Nolan (By warthog) David Nolan needs to check his facts. St. Augustine General was built in 1972 not 1964 and NOT by segregationist doctors. The doctors were not satisfied with the administrator at Flagler Hospital and split away. The doctors in St. Augustine have always treated black and white patients, and accepted whatever the patient could pay in the old days before the government got involved.

3. drama, drama, drama (By talyen01) Don't you just love it when "all" the historians enter the mix (the paid and unpaid). The newspaper loves it too- I'm sure.

4. David Nolan (By gam2451) I've lived in St. Augustine for 59 years and once again David Nolan doesn't have his facts or history right. Warthog is exactly right about why General Hospital was built and when. Doesn't seems like David can say anything about St. Augustine without smearing someone. Do some real research David about the history of St. Augustine and quit making it up for your agenda.

5. Nolan (By justwondering) DN-You should get on the horse you rode into town on and RIDE OUT!
Did you even know Dr. O'Connell or any of the other founding doctors? I DID and I can assure you they were not SEGREGATIONIST PHYSICIANS! And I knew Claude Weeks personally and he did not think of these physicians in this way.

--- end after-comments at ---

I also knew Wayne O'Connell MD, and Claude Weeks; but more importantly I was aslo the investigator assigned by the U.S. Health and Human Services regional office in Atlanta, Ga. - the formal charge being that doctors at the Doctors' Building at 11 Tremerton St. (just north of old Flagler Hospital) were claiming and accepting federal funds while simultaneously enforcing a racially segregated facility, i.e. the Doctors' Building.

For background the history of structures at 11 Tremerton from 1965 is included in this article:

I began my unannounced investigation at the first office on the left - Dr. Wayne O'Connell's (oldtimers will remember him from the early '70s as an obese chain-smoker).  

He was even then a class act (and later left his private practice, stopped smoking, lost some weight, and became a strident leader in St. Johns county public and low-income health services) and as we smoked Marlboro Reds, freely acknowledged that he was caught smack dab in the middle of the conflict between the "movers and shakers" of the segregationists who simply ignored the 1964 federal laws, and any attempt to de-segregate St. Augustine.  

(Only the public schools had been de-segregated, and only under the mandates of a federal Court - many private bars, taverns and restaurants still refused to serve blacks and tans.)  

O'Connell had intentionally filed papers for federal subsidized funds (Medicare/Medicaid) for his private black patients, anticipating that attention would somehow be drawn to St. Augustine.

And "yes" the Doctors' building was totally segregated; only whites could enter through the main entrance (facing west), with blacks being admitted at the rear of the building (facing east).  Once inside, black patients were kept in a collective segregated waiting room - the white patients had individual waiting rooms in each doctor's office. An examining room was connected to a hidden hallway which white patients were unaware of, which was used by the few doctors who treated black patients at the black-only examining room at the rear of the building.

I was feeling pretty good after leaving Wayne O'Connell's office, but soon was disallowed of that feeling, as I was greeted by the next doctor who was receiving federal funds.  After ten years in the Navy, during its forced integration period, I thought I had heard every racist, bigoted, hateful epithet in the world.  After screaming at me as an outside agitator commie pinko agent of the fascist government while denying that he would ever accept federal funding, he almost began frothing at the mouth when I presented him with the documentation of his receipt of federal funds.  The third, and last doctor who was in receipt of federal tax dollars refused to see me.  

That investigation was the event which separated the doctors in St. Augustine into two groups - some for political reasons, some for philosophical reasons, some for personality reasons, and some for economic realities.  
Those who refused to accept federal funding split off from Flagler Hospital and formed St. Augustine General; those five who wanted to maintain a facility open to all - including Ken Farrow MD and Reuben Plant MD - remained at Flagler.  The Doctors' Building, privately owned, ceased to be (see above history link). Forum Index -> In the News Local (St Augustine)
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