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Healthcare for African Americans

 When Dr. Clarence L. “Carl” Brumback came to West Palm Beach in 1950 to start the county health department, segregation prevented the black community from receiving the same services as white residents. Brumback later recalled, “Although white physicians saw black patients in large numbers, many times they would not get reimbursed for the indigent care they provided.” Doctors usually had separate waiting areas for blacks and whites. Cardiologist Dr. Saul D. Rotter (1912-2015), who saw patients at all-black Pine Ridge Hospital, claimed to be the first to have black patients sit in his waiting room. Rotter started an indigent heart clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital about 1950, before Medicare was available.

The few black doctors, including Dr. Gartrell J. Gaines, Jr. (1921-1999) and Dr. J. H. Russell Dyett (1894-1974), were permitted on staff only at Pine Ridge Hospital. Dr. Dyett’s first wife, Bessie, was one of two black nurses on the staff of the county health department; the other was Eva Williams Mack. Dr. Brumback called on Dyett and Mack in developing health services for the black community. At his request, Dyett arranged a meeting with the Vanguard Club, a group of black leaders. Brumback later recalled:

I met with them and asked them what their problems were. Then I asked the president, or the chairman, of the group, “I’m not hearing what I came to hear. I want to hear what the real problems are. I don’t want to hear what you think I want to hear.” So the tone of the meeting changed and they really let me have it with some of the real problems. The next meeting—they decided that we would meet again—was in the health department. There I learned a great deal from them about the problems and also what approach I should take, how I should deal with the problems that existed.

Pine Ridge Hospital, now known as Pine Ridge Apartments, 1401 Division Avenue, West Palm Beach, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.


Eva Williams Mack

Eva Williams Mack (1915-1998) of Alabama earned her nursing degree from Simmons College in Boston, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University; she moved to West Palm Beach in 1948. Mack was the first health specialist for the Palm Beach County School Board and a nurse for the Palm Beach County Health Department; she founded the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of Palm Beach County in 1979. Eva Mack and Ruby Bullock became the first black city commissioners of West Palm Beach in 1978, and Mack was elected West Palm Beach’s first black mayor in 1982.

Dr. Gartrell J. Gaines, Jr.

Georgia-born Gartrell J. Gaines Jr. (1921-1999) came to West Palm Beach from Orlando as a child. He graduated from Industrial High School in Riviera Beach and Florida A&M University. After serving in the army during World War II, Gaines received his medical degree from Howard University and returned to West Palm Beach to open a practice in 1952. During segregation, he was on staff at Pine Ridge Hospital and at St. Mary’s Medical Center when it took over Pine Ridge.

Dr. Gaines was active in civil rights efforts, especially better healthcare for poor blacks, more black representation in local government, and school desegregation. He was chair of the Palm Beach County School District’s Biracial Committee in the early 1970s.

Gaines helped open the local golf courses to black residents, while his wife, Lillian, helped to integrate restaurants and swimming pools.

Dr. Theodore and Dolores Norley

During the 1960s, Dr. Theodore Norley (? – 1975) and his wife, Dolores Boland Norley (1918-2007), were among the few local whites that fought openly for civil rights. Dr. Norley, the county’s second orthopedic surgeon, was banned from Good Samaritan Hospital for trying to admit a black patient. He was one of the first physicians to integrate his waiting room. The Norleys integrated local restaurants by arriving with black friends. After Dr. Norley’s death in 1975, the Urban League of Palm Beach County named the Dr. Theodore Norley Community Service Award in his memory.

After one of the Norleys’ three children was diagnosed with developmental disorders, Dolores Norley built a school for disabled children. She started what became the Habilitation Center to employ the disabled in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. In 1966 Norley was the first woman to earn a master's degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University. At age 62, she earned a law degree at Howard University, a traditionally black institution. Dolores Norley was named one of Ladies Home Journal's 1984 American Heroines.



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