Desegregation of Hospitals at Issue in Greensboro, 1962

On December 5, 1962, a U.S. district court dismissed a suit against two Greensboro hospitals challenging “separate but equal” treatment in private, non-profit hospitals. The case was ultimately overturned on appeal.

The suit, now known as Simkins v. Cone, was brought by African American medical professionals and their patients against the Moses H. Cone Memorial and Wesley Long Community Hospitals. Their objective was to gain admission privileges for themselves and their patients.

The plaintiffs argued that, even though the hospitals were private institutions, their “separate but equal treatment” was unconstitutional because the institutions received state and federal funding under a 1946 federal law and various federal regulations.

The district court held that, because the hospitals were not agencies of the state, the suit should not go forward. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the institutions were connected to the government and that discriminatory treatment violated the Constitution.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, it was only legally binding in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, but the ruling helped turn the tide toward hospital desegregation across the South. It was the first time a federal court prohibited racial discrimination by a private entity.

Image Credit: The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, circa 1965. Image from the North Carolina Digital Collections.

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