Thousands of Black Nurses, the Young Lords and the Relocation of Riker’s:
Why the history of a block matters
In 1895, the Society for the Relief of Worthy Aged Indigent Colored Persons purchased a block in Mott Haven to build a permanent facility. After moving around Manhattan for decades, the new permanent facility opened in the Bronx in 1898 with beds for over 200 patients. That same year, The School for Colored Females in Nursing Arts also opened on site, training Black women to care for the growing number of patients. Six women comprised the first graduating class in 1900, and by 1902 the larger facility was renamed Lincoln Hospital and Home. For decades, Black women came from around the nation, the Caribbean, and as far as Africa to study at the prestigious Lincoln School for Nurses. Nearly 2,000 nurses graduated from the school before it closed for good in 1961.
By the late 1960s, the increasingly dilapidated Lincoln Hospital gained the moniker, “The Butcher Shop,” with days-long wait times and numerous instances of lead-poisoning and medical malpractice. In July 1970, the Young Lords carefully executed the takeover of Lincoln, putting their lives on the line and drafting the very first Patients’ Bill of Rights. In November they occupied the old Nurse’s residence to launch the People’s Drug Program along with the Black Panthers. From this base, they started an acupuncture treatment program, and staged rallies in support of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 and the American Indian Movement’s Battle at Wounded Knee in 1973. Their detox operation lasted until the police shut it down in 1979. By then, thanks in part to their efforts, the old Lincoln Hospital site at the corner of Concord Ave and East 141st Street had closed and moved to its new facility on 149th Street, in 1976. The old hospital and school for nurses was demolished soon after and turned into an NYPD Tow Pound, which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever had your car towed in the Bronx.
Just last month Mayor de Blasio announced that his administration has identified this exact same site as the future home of one of the jails that will replace Riker’s Island. While he states there will be ‘community input’, none of the Bronx elected officials even knew about this choice before the announcement, let alone neighborhood residents including those living in homes across the street.
When we consider the significance of what has happened on this site, from training scores of black nurses to the launch of a patients’ bill of rights and a revolutionary people’s detox program, what can we imagine as a new use for this space? Would we be willing to put ourselves on the line in the same ways those who have come before us have to make sure our ‘input’ isn’t just heard, but leads the way for the future of this historic site?
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Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.