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Uncommon History: Alissa Keller on Hopkinsville’s Brooks Memorial Hospital

In the next installment of Daniel Hurt's Uncommon History series on Sounds Good, Hurt and Alissa Keller, Executive Director of the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County, discuss Hopkinsville's Brooks Memorial Hospital, a Black-run medical center operating at the height of segregation. Dr. Phillip Brooks, an African American doctor born and raised in Hopkinsville, built what would later become a 30-room hospital as an addition to his home in 1944 to treat patients since the nearby Jenny Stewart Memorial Hospital only treated white patients.

Although the hospital was initially established to treat Black patients, it was not a segregated facility. "They would treat anybody," Keller says. Brooks moved from his native Hopkinsville to Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University. After earning his undergraduate and medical degrees, Brooks moved back to Kentucky. "When he moved back here, tragically, he had just lost both of his parents. He was the oldest of seven brothers, so he becomes the patriarch of this family very quickly. But Dr. Brooks comes back, works at Western State mental hospital, but then sees the need for a full-service medical facility for the Black community."

The Brooks Memorial Hospital received national attention in the 1950s when it treated a stock car racer who was injured in a crash but who was turned away from the Jenny Stewart Memorial Hospital. Brooks' hospital was featured in Jet magazine. Two decades later, Jenny Stewart Hospital would integrate, and Dr. Brooks would eventually join their staff as the first Black physician to serve on staff. Brooks maintained the Brooks Memorial Hospital for a few more years until the lack of demand for two hospitals and funding issues led to its ultimate closure in 1978.

“There are definitely people in Hopkinsville that were born at Brooks Hospital that remember being treated at Brooks Hospital. It was a regional facility for decades and in a lot of ways before integration. African American soldiers at Fort Campbell were even treated at Brooks Hospital for a period of time. It was quite the hub,” Keller said. “In the Kentucky New Era, once or twice a week, there was a correspondent who wrote a column specifically for African American citizens, and in it every week, she told who was at Brooks and where they were from, and it was from Clarksville to Evansville and all over the region.”

Keller wrote an article when Dr. Brooks passed away in 1982. The following year, one of his sons donated a number of items from the hospital to the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County, including a nursery bed. The bed is on display in the museum. “This is a bed that babies would have been laid in so that people could look through the glass to see their babies. We've had that on display for decades, along with other pieces from the facility,” Keller says.

In addition to being the founder of Brooks Memorial Hospital, Dr. Phillip Brooks is remembered by the region as the first African American member of the Hopkinsville City School Board. He was a member of the Grace Episcopal Church.

To read more Uncommon History segments, click here. For more information on the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County, including how to view the nursery bed from Brooks Memorial Hospital, visit the MHHCC website.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “River City Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
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