Retired Nurse Shares Experience of Integration


Posted to Nursing, Nursing News

Vintage blood pressure cuff ©

The Jackson Sun has a story about a retired African-American nurse who was one of the very first people to desegregate the Jackson General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee.

Vernice Dixon, 93, was in her 30’s when she decided to quit her job as a dishwasher and try to become a nurse.

In 1952, she became part of a small group of minority nurses — patients were still segregated at that time, and some of the white patients didn’t want anyone but white nurses helping them. (An issue that unfortunately still persists today.)

“I remember one man, who was white, who spoke real bad to me,” Dixon said. “I came into his room and I said, ‘Hello’ and told him that I was there to take his temperature. He cussed so bad and used words that no one around me had used before.”

Dixon told a white colleague who came to her defense.

“I had to learn how to get over things like that,” Dixon said. “As a nurse, whether you’re black or white, you have to deal with patients. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.”

One of the most challenging examples of integrating a once-segregated hospital, Dixon said, was the separation of rooms for white and black people.

“There were times when the first floor, where they kept all of the black patients, was overcrowded when the rooms on the third floor were empty,” Dixon said. “There were empty beds, but they were not for black people.”

As a nurse, Dixon earned $300 every two weeks, which was a large pay increase from $1.10 she made cleaning houses.

“I always knew how to stretch a dollar,” Dixon said.

Her ability to make her money last helped improve the lives of her parents and her only daughter Clementine, who she hoped would follow in her footsteps as a nurse.

“She became a teacher instead,” Dixon said.

“Mama loved nursing with a passion; it’s her calling,” said Clementine Spencer, Dixon’s daughter.

Dixon worked in the hospital for 28 years before she retired.

“I saw a lot of changes,” she said. “We (black nurses) broke up a lot of segregation that was going on.”

In one of Dixon’s stories, she asked nursing supervisors about why black nurses didn’t know about training inservice opportunities.

“After that, they posted the inservice trainings,” Dixon said.