Only in the last fifty years has access to Asheville’s hospitals been available to every citizen. Before the 1950s a third of the population was legally segregated from seeking medical treatment.
In 1922 Blue Ridge Hospital at 186 Fayetteville Street in West Asheville opened to serve the black population of Asheville, but when the Great Depression hit in 1929 the hospital was denied needed funding that was provided to the white hospitals, and it closed.
In 1939 Asheville had 5 hospitals, but people of color were excluded from all but one – Mission, which provided 18 segregated beds in the basement. As a Citizens Times article of the time pointed out, there was 1 bed for every 100 white residents, while there was 1 bed for every 1000 black residents. Care in the segregated ward of a white hospital was also susceptible to prejudice. It is fair to say that at this time in Asheville the vast majority of black citizens were denied medical treatment; with only 18 hospital beds available in the entire city, physicians would have to wait for months to schedule even serious major operations, minor treatments were all but ignored, and many people died from inadequate healthcare.
Seeing this crisis Dr. Mary Shuford, who returned to Asheville in 1928 after attended medical school at Columbia University and University of Chicago, began treating black patients. Surely facing her own obstacles as one of the few women attending medical school and becoming a doctor, Dr. Shuford was from a prominent white Asheville family and met with some resistance from the white community that had put in the place the boundaries between the black community and basic care. In 1935 she opened the Shuford Clinic for Negroes in a house at 269 college street with private donations. It consisted of nine patient beds, an operating room, a bedroom for nurses, a kitchen, examination room and offices. In the first year she did over 200 operations and saw over 2,000 outpatients. The need was greater than Dr. Shuford could handle in her small clinic, so along with Charles Webb who published the Asheville Citizen Times newspaper, they began a fundraiser.
With the funds raised by the community a two-story brick building that had been the former home and clinic of Dr. Reuben Bryant, one of the first African American physicians in Asheville, at the intersection of Biltmore and Southside Avenue. The building was remodeled into a 35 bed hospital, and opened in 1943. The opening of the hospital also provided a place for black doctors and nurses to practice their profession, as they too met many obstacles in gaining employment and treating patients in Jim Crow Asheville.
In 1951 the hospital merged with Mission. The building was later used by Jesse Ray Funeral Home and by Eugene Ellison’s law office.
Just recently the building was razed to make a parking lot for Green Man Brewing.