African American Health Care Providers Inducted

Lurelia Freeman, great-granddaughter of Dr. John Hale and Millie E. Hale and Dr. Matthew Walker 3d, grandson of Dr. Matthew Walker Sr. display awards given posthumously to their ancestors for their work in the health care industry in Tennessee during the 20th Century.

By Sandra Long Weaver

NASHVILLE, TN — Matthew Walker Sr., M.D. and Millie E. Hale and John Henry Hale, M.D. were among seven people inducted on Oct. 16 into the 2018 Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame at Belmont University.

The event, now in its fifth year, was created by The McWhorter Society and Belmont University with support from the Nashville Health Care Council.

All three were inducted posthumously with the awards accepted by their descendants. And all three saw the need for medical services to be made available to African Americans.

Dr. John Henry Hale graduated from Meharry Medical College and his wife was a graduate of Fisk’s Normal School and Graduate School for Nurses in New York City.

According to the program booklet, when Mrs. Hale returned to Nashville, she and Dr. Hale opened a 12-bed hospital in their home in 1916 because African Americans could not be treated at “white” facilities. 

The hospital grew to a 75-bed facility taking over their entire home and included a solarium, laboratory, maternity ward, operating room and sterilizing rooms. More than 4,000 patients from Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee were treated there before it closed in 1938.

The couple also opened a community center at the hospital that included a prenatal and infant clinic and a free dispensary and clinic for adults. Mrs. Hale was the hospital’s head administrator and chief nurse as well as secretary and treasurer for the board of directors.

Dr. Hale was President of the Board of Directors of the Millie E. Hale Hospital and and Professor of Clinical Medicine and Surgery and Chief of Staff and eventually Chair of the Department of Surgery at Meharry. He died in 1944 at the age 62.

The award for the Hales was accepted by Lurelia Freeman, their great-granddaughter. “Their contribution to health care helped define the industry in Tennessee and this country,” Freeman said.

Also inducted in the Hall of Fame was Dr. Matthew Walker Sr., who 50 years ago founded the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center.

He did residencies at Meharry and Freedman Hospital at Howard University in Washington, D.C. According to the program booklet, in 1955 he was one of the first African Americans voted into the Nashville Academy of Medicine. In 1961, he was named to the Board of Hospital Commissioners of Nashville General Hospital.

Dr. Walker Sr. made a direct request to President Richard Nixon for funding to start the health center. He also started the Meharry Medical College surgical residency program. 

At the tine of his death in 1978, he was credited with training half of the African American physicians in the country. More than 70 of his former students created the Annual Matthew Walker Surgical Symposium now in its 39th year.

Dr. Matthew Walker 3d accepted the award on behalf of his grandfather. “Excellence was the baseline” for him, he said. Maintaining health was important.

“Grandpa also had a way of making you feel comfortable,” Walker said. “He let his light shine to draw you into the warmth.”

Other inductees were Monroe Carell Jr., Carol Etherington, Lynn Massingale, M.D. and William Schaffner, M.D.

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