From The Son Of Ex-Slaves, The Gift Of A Hospital

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Diane Kenney (left) and Linda Kenney Miller, ages 66 and 65 respectively, visited StoryCorps in Montgomery, Ala. i

Diane Kenney (left) and Linda Kenney Miller, ages 66 and 65 respectively, visited StoryCorps in Montgomery, Ala. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
Diane Kenney (left) and Linda Kenney Miller, ages 66 and 65 respectively, visited StoryCorps in Montgomery, Ala.

Diane Kenney (left) and Linda Kenney Miller, ages 66 and 65 respectively, visited StoryCorps in Montgomery, Ala.

StoryCorps

Dr. John A. Kenney may be best known as Booker T. Washington's personal physician. But Kenney's granddaughter Linda Kenney Miller, along with her sister Diane Kenney, recall a different story about the doctor.

In the early 1920s, the doctor had been run out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan and wanted to set up a medical practice in his new home of Newark, N.J.

"He got there and he saw there was no place for African-Americans to be treated, for the doctors to get training, for the nurses to learn their skills. So he took a loan from a bank, and he built a hospital — the first hospital for blacks in Newark," Linda says.

It was in the Third Ward, where there was crime, poverty and illness, she says. And then, when the Depression hit, the hospital had to lay off a lot of staff because it couldn't afford to pay them.

Kenney was so busy that he would schedule surgeries in the wee hours of the morning — "3 and 4 in the morning, because the other time, he was washing linens, too, and being the janitor and doing everything," Linda says.

One time, she says, he was downstairs cleaning and doing laundry, and he had to run back upstairs because it was time to see patients.

"And he forgot to take off his galoshes," Linda says, "so he went sloshing through the waiting room, where all the patients began to snicker because they were like, 'OK, what kind of doctor is this?' "

Toward the end of the Depression, Linda says, her grandfather wanted to find a way to keep his hospital functioning, so he decided to let it become a community-owned property.

"And the community would invest in it and run it. And on Christmas Eve, he gave the hospital to the community as a Christmas gift," she says.

"Our grandfather, who was the son of ex-slaves — if he can do what he did with nothing, what is our excuse?"

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher and Michael Garofalo.

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