First Black nurses in our area getting recognized 50 years later

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's another appearance for the ladies.

A radio interview with Major Reginal Brown.

The ladies have become celebrities of sort and they're enjoying it.

"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," says Ethel Rucker.

"It's surprising," says Catherine Jackson.  "and somewhat overwhelming.  We didn't expect all of this."

The women are among the first Black nurses at Baton Rouge General Hospital.

Fifty years later, their place in history is being celebrated.  They have been recognized by Mayor Kip Holden, state legislators, and just recently by their former employer.

"To see this come to fruition," says Lucinda Clark. "I'm on high."

It's a far cry from where it all began. It was the 1950s. A time of segregation. 

The Black nurses were assigned to one wing of the hospital called Four South, the fourth floor.  And that's where all the Black patients were treated. They described it as a hospital within a hospital.

"The cafeteria was segregated," says Gwendolyn Miller.  "Patients didn't have private rooms so they had to be placed in the halls with IVs."

"We could do the medications and the treatments," Earl Dean Joseph says. "But we could not do the clerical phase of it. We could not do charts so the White aides would have to do the charts."

"The Blacks received Black blood," says Lucinda Clark. "But the Whites could not receive the Black blood and it was labeled B-l-a-c-k."

Many of them received their nursing degrees at the Capital Area Trade School which was the only school in the state where Blacks could get nursing degrees.

They fondly remember their colleagues, including the first Black nursing instructor Mary Harris and their mentor and friend Ida Henderson.

"I learned a lot," says Jackson.  "I made mistakes, but profited from those mistakes. We were able to help teach some of the other nurses as they came along. In fact,  we helped train the white RNs."

"When I look back, it was my calling," Clark says.  "I loved the people. I loved my coworkers."

"I enjoyed being a nurse and I thank God for that because had it not been for him I wouldn't have been a nurse," Rucker says.

They opened doors along the way and broke down barriers, including integrating the hospital's cafeterais.

"It was time for a change," says Miller. "So we entered the cafeteria on our white counterparts' side, went down the steam line, and selected what we wanted, paid and had a seat. From that day on, they tore the barriers down between the cafeteria and the Black section and everybody was able to eat together."

They have been together ever since. A bond they say can never be broken.