Acknowledging “grave mistakes of the past,” trustees of the Medical University of South Carolina passed a resolution Friday expressing regret for racial discrimination that led to the 1969 Hospital Workers’ Strike and paying tribute to strikers and other “agents for change.”
The action came as MUSC continues to work through its Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion in an effort to address current concerns.
“We acknowledge our past and remember the 1969 Hospital Workers’ Strike in order to improve our future,” the resolution states.
“We, the Board of Trustees of The Medical University of South Carolina, deeply regret the discriminatory working conditions that led to the 1969 Hospital Workers’ Strike. These discriminatory attitudes and behaviors were clearly wrong, and we are fully committed to learning from the grave mistakes of the past.”
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, helped shape the resolution. He and the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the June 17 Emanuel AME Church shooting, met with MUSC’s then-president-elect, David Cole, in early May 2014 to discuss ways the university could enhance diversity and improve race relations.
Soon after, Kimpson itemized recommendations in a letter to Cole, asking the hospital to issue an apology for the discrimination that led to the strike, persist in implementing its diversity plan, assist employees whose jobs are threatened by a new computerized filing system and improve procurement and contracting opportunities of minority-owned businesses.
On June 2 this year, Kimpson gave a speech on the Senate floor calling on MUSC to apologize for its past discrimination and recognize the positive contributions of Mary Moultrie, who had died in April, Bill Saunders and other strike leaders.
MUSC has been a responsive partner, Kimpson said. “I think they are making a good-faith effort. A lot of this grew out of the momentum of the massacre (at Emanuel AME). Hearts are now open.”
Trustee Board Chairman Don Johnson said the resolution was a public way to reaffirm MUSC’s commitment to the community.
“We continue to strive to make ours an environment that values thoughtfulness, respect and inclusivity,” Johnson said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate our engagement with Sen. Marlon Kimpson in creating this resolution. His involvement in this process has offered invaluable guidance on the path forward, and enabled MUSC to honor his and the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s wish for this public resolution.”
Then, in a comment to The Post and Courier, Johnson added emphasis to the board’s actions.
“It is important that our community knows that we deeply regret and apologize for the discriminatory behavior that occurred on our campus at that time,” he said.
The 1969 strike was the culmination of nearly two years of organizing and protest.
Moultrie, a licensed nurse whose credentials were not fully recognized by the Medical College, organized informal get-togethers, sought advice from Septima P. Clark and invited community leaders, such as Saunders, to join the fight. Saunders would become a lead organizer and negotiator.
About 450 people from the Medical College and 80 from Charleston County Hospital joined the effort. Coretta Scott King, honorary chairwoman of the hospital union, came to march down Ashley Avenue, joined by Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The state, prohibited from bargaining with the union, would not fulfill all the protesters’ demands, offering instead a compromise that modestly raised wages and established a grievance procedure.
The Rev. Nelson Rivers III, a local pastor and National Action Network leader, called the new resolution a major step that exceeded his expectations. He said he welcomed its strong language and praised MUSC for admitting accountability.
“A lot of people will be surprised at the candor, a lot of African-Americans will be impressed,” Rivers said.
The resolution is more than symbolic, he said. It’s among several actions taken by MUSC — a state institution — that are mostly focused on present concerns, and the process should serve as a model for other similar initiatives.
“They should use this methodology and commitment and execution of a plan at the state level,” he said. “I’m wondering now, will the governor and General Assembly apologize, show regret, recognize that it was a grievous error when they shot those 28 students and killed three at S.C. State?”
Rivers was referring to the February 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, which remains an open wound for many because no formal state investigation ever was conducted and no truth and reconciliation effort made.
“I commend the Medical University for being one of the first — for accepting responsibility, as they have done, for what to do now,” Rivers said. “I think that is the model for how you respond.”
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