University of Alabama Medical Center

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This article is about the development of the medical center prior to 1969, when it became the UAB Medical Center.

The University of Alabama Medical Center was a four-block district in Birmingham's Southside which grew around the historic Hillman Hospital and Jefferson Tower, which had been combined as Jefferson-Hillman Hospital and taken over by the Medical College of Alabama on June 4, 1945.

The Crippled Children's Clinic was completed at 616 19th Street South in 1951, the Birmingham VA Medical Center was constructed one block south in 1953. The Jefferson County Board of Health later moved into the district.

Medical center expansion

As early as 1950 the predominantly-black residential area west of the medical center was being recommended as the site for expansion of the medical center. According to that year's census, 81% of the houses in that area were "dilapidated" or lacked private baths and 95% lacked central heat. The Jefferson County Board of Health recommended that the neighborhood be demolished and the medical center expanded to twice its size. It further recommended that federal funds authorized by newly-passed Urban Renewal legislation should be pursued to carry out the project.

Under Title I of that law, the federal government would grant two-thirds of the cost difference between the amount needed to acquire, clear and improve blighted areas and the price paid by private developers for the resulting real estate. A preliminary budget for the medical center expansion projected that it would cost nearly $5 million and could be sold for just over $3.3 million, leaving about $1.6 million to be made up by the city and US treasury. The city's share, about $547,000 in that projection, was still a tough sell for the Birmingham City Commission and mayor Cooper Green.

An endorsement from James Sulzby, Jr of the Birmingham Planning Board and George Byrum of the Birmingham Zoning Commission was followed by vocal support from Medical College dean James Durrett, county health officer George Dennison, and Hill Ferguson and Robert Jemison Jr of the Birmingham Real Estate Board. The Birmingham Housing Authority prepared plans for doubling the size of the medical center and constructing a 750-unit public housing project west of it to serve the displaced black residents. They solicited the opinion of nationally-known urban planner Harland Bartholomew, who assured them that hospital expansion would pay great dividends as more of the public qualified for health insurance and as visitors came to Birmingham for medical treatment. With these endorsements, the City Commission agreed to pursue Title I funding. By the summer of 1952 the first federal money arrived to support planning and design.

The Birmingham Planning Board prepared a more detailed plan to the City Commission on January 13, 1953. This scheme detailed a number of new hospitals, clinics and related commercial developments, but omitted the idea of building new housing for displaced residents, estimated to number 680 households, most of them African-American. With the 500-unit Marks Village and Loveman Village projects having been completed in that decade, and the 950-unit Tuxedo Court project in the planning stages, Mayor Green believed that enough low income housing was available for those too poor to enter the market. The city's mortgage bankers association and the Birmingham News agreed with that assessment. Those opinions were not, however, supported by evidence from surveys of the people living in the expansion district. Those surveys found that less than a fourth of the black residents, a majority of whom paid rents of less than $25 per month, could afford decent housing elsewhere. After a public hearing on March 16, Roberta Morgan, director of the Jefferson County Coordinating Council of Social Forces, brought the matter to the attention of the Interracial Division's housing subcommittee, to little substantive effect. Inaction set the stage for relocation of black families from Southside to already-established black residential areas, allowing the city to avoid opening up formerly-white residential areas to dislocated black families.

No African-Americans were included in the Southside Medical Center Citizens Advisory Committee. The NAACP and Charles Goodgame, pastor of 6th Avenue Baptist Church, expressed concern at a follow-up hearing on March 30 at Municipal Auditorium. Goodgame expressed support for the overall project, but lamented the dislocation of families without a clear place set for them to go. Attorney Oscar Adams Jr also spoke made reference to the bombings that, along with subtler forms of discrimination, kept black house-seekers hemmed into small areas of the city. Birmingham World publisher Emory Jackson railed against the racism inherent in the redevelopment plan. With local leaders deaf to their concerns, these critics appealed to the Home and Housing Finance Agency and the Eisenhower administration, seeking to have Birmingham's application rejected.

Meanwhile, a group of property owners filed suit in federal court seeking to halt the project on the grounds that because parts of the district would be turned over to private developers, that the requirement of a "public purpose" for the acquisition of parcels was not met. That suit was dismissed.