The Boys & Girls Club was almost a hospital

Published 4:58 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

On September 20, 1958, Beaufort County native Dr. John Cordice (1919-2013) operated on Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Harlem, N.Y. City hospital. He is now widely credited with saving Dr. King’s life after this assignation attempt.

King was stabbed by a woman outside a New York City department store while autographing copies of a book he was promoting. He was brought to Harlem Hospital, where then New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman requested that African American doctors work on him. Cordice, who wasn’t even on duty that day, happened to stop by Brooklyn medical office where he received a call to come at once to operate an important person who had been injured.

After rushing to the hospital, Cordice and other surgeons used a hammer and chisel to crack King’s sternum and remove the blade with which he had been stabbed, thereby saving King’s life.

Born in the small community of Aurora, southeast of Washington, Cordice was raised in Durham NC. After college and medical school at New York University, he joined the Army in 1943. During his service, he worked as the official doctor of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Also, while in France, he assisted in the first open heart surgery in that country. Later Dr. Cordice became Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Harlem Hospital in New York City.

In 1947, Dr. Cordice, who at that time was head physician at Durham Hospital, came to Washington to speak on a Sunday afternoon at the auditorium of what was then known as the Washington Colored School, located at Bridge and Seventh Streets. He also brought with him two African American physicians who were interested in seeing the possibilities of interest in an African American hospital here.

In June of 1949, an African American Hospital Steering Committee composed of Mrs. Odessa Barrow, a highly respected nurse, and two well-known and esteemed community members, Leon Randolph Jr. and George Bailey was formed. They began the project of introducing the idea to the African American community in Washington. Fundraising started in earnest to buy the land for the hospital at Bridge, Van Norden and Eleventh Streets.

In 1953, the Committee, with the community’s help, purchased the land.
It took almost five years for the effort to gain momentum, but in January 1958, the Steering Committee began holding monthly meetings at the P. S. Jones High School Library. All kinds of fundraisers were held and the plans for the hospital were starting to form. However, after heartfelt requests were expressed by the African American community that noted African American children needed a playground and recreational facility. It was later decided since Washington had the recently built Beaufort County Hospital, “the land would be better used as a playground and recreational facility.” The final decision was to build a recreation center and playground on the land in the early ’60’s.

Today the original recreation center building remains with new renovations to the building and playground, and you know it as the Boys and Girls Club of Coastal Carolina.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.