Founder’s Day: Reflecting on a legacy of Black history at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

by Savoy Staff

Inspiration comes in many forms, some as simple as a news article. For St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® founder Danny Thomas, it was a news clipping he carried in his wallet, telling the story of a Black child in the South who was denied treatment because of the color of his skin. The article would solidify Thomas’s vision of building a hospital that would treat patients without discrimination.

That dream became a reality when St. Jude opened its doors on Feb. 4, 1962 as the first fully integrated children’s hospital in the South.

From that day, in an effort to provide world-class care and break barriers, St. Jude has treated patients regardless of family background and hired the best and brightest to treat them, including many of the first Black doctors to serve in a major research hospital. Among them was Dr. Rudolph Jackson, who joined St. Jude in 1968 and Dr. William Terrell, who helped launch the first major effort to understand the lifelong progression of sickle cell disease.

“St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was founded as a beacon of hope for sick children regardless of race or their family’s ability to pay,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude. “As we celebrate Founder’s Day this Feb. 4, we reflect on more than 60 years of challenging the status quo to help children survive and thrive, and all those who have helped make it possible. There remains so much more work to be done. Together, we will make cures possible for every child everywhere and create a more equitable future.”

Building on a foundation of radical inclusion and support from historically Black organizations like The National Pan-Hellenic Council and The Links Foundation, St. Jude shares its knowledge and resources with hospitals around the world. For example, St. Jude has recently partnered with a teaching hospital in Nigeria to conduct newborn screenings for sickle cell disease – the program has now tested more than 2,500 babies.

Each year, St. Jude highlights the Black community’s help in making this life saving work possible. The annual St. Jude Spirit of the Dream honors African Americans for their outstanding support of St. Jude. The 2022 event accentuated Black female excellence by recognizing three women – an astronaut, doctor and non-profit executive– an important first in the event’s history. And St. Jude Celebration of Hope brought together 400 African American supporters last month in a joyous weekend of song and spirit ahead of the nationwide Urban Radio Cares for St. Jude radiothon.

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