Icon for Maternal and Infant Health

Hospital Desegregation and Its Discontents



Durham’s Black community had great pride in Lincoln Hospital. Women at Lincoln remember being treated with respect and professionalism.

“I knew that if I had had my baby at Lincoln, that at least somebody would’ve been in there, they would’ve made over you, they would’ve made over your baby. We just treated people nicer at Lincoln,” recalled retired nurse Ann Mulligan Barnes.

“Regardless of their ability to pay, patients were prioritized as someone who was important… it really was hallowed ground.”

– Dr. Charles Harris, OB/GYN

Unfortunately, funds at Lincoln began to dry up and the hospital was under-utilized. Resources were scarce and the staff had to be creative.

“We had the old iron beds that rolled up, we had glass IVs. But what I can remember is the nurses were always very gentle, they were all very kind. The doctors were too,” Barnes recalled.

Barnes remembers that despite outdated technology and low funds, “I don’t think patient care suffered. It was just the commitment and the loyalty of the staff that kept people working at Lincoln.”


Registered Nurse Patricia Blue gave birth at Lincoln Hospital in 1972, during the desegregation process. She recalled that “I liked being with the only family I knew, and that was the Lincoln family… [t]he people who worked there were dedicated people. They were very dedicated to the institution and to caring for other people.”


When segregation of Durham’s public spaces ended in the early 1960s, calls for hospital desegregation soon followed. But the desegregation of both patients and staff in Duke’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology proceeded slowly. Despite the efforts of obstetric leaders at Duke, distinctions between public and private patients–based on patients’ ability to pay–would maintain de facto segregation well into the 1970s.

Many local Black leaders continued to revere Lincoln, and opposed a 1965 referendum to incorporate its patient services into an integrated Watts Hospital. Lincoln hospital remained in operation for another ten years, until the new Durham County Hospital replaced both Watts and Lincoln in 1976.

A woman and child look at an image of Duke family philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle Trent.