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Historic marker unveiled at late surgeon's former Columbia office

Dr. Spann office

Catherine Fleming Bruce, from left, Rabbi Sabine Meyer and Anthony Thompson Jr. stand outside 2226 Hampton St., where a historical marker was unveiled commemorating the medical office of the late Dr. Cyril O. Spann.

The 2200 block of Hampton Street in Columbia's Waverly neighborhood is a corridor of history.

Just look at the historic markers.

There's the one at 2204 Hampton in front of the former Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, which served the African American community from 1952 to 1973. And there's another at 2214 Hampton, at the Visanska-Starks House, the home that was once occupied by jeweler Barrett Visanska, a Jewish community leader and a founder of the Tree of Life Congregation, and was later occupied by John Jacob Starks, Benedict College's first black president. 

And now the block can boast yet another plaque for an historic figure. On Nov. 21, the Richland County Conservation Commission and Tnovsa Global Commons, the advocacy organization run by activist and author Catherine Fleming Bruce, unveiled a marker at 2226 Hampton, the former offices of the late Dr. Cyril O. Spann, an African American physician, surgeon and civil rights leader. The unveiling was marked by a ceremony attended by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, state Rep. Kambrell Garvin, state Rep. Seth Rose, Columbia City Councilman Ed McDowell and others. 

The former physician's office was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

Bruce noted that, during her research of the doctor's office building, she became enamored with Spann's medical work, in Columbia and statewide, and the legacy of other African American doctors who worked at the facility through the years.

"I discovered information about Dr. Spann and his critical statewide role in providing health services and surgeries for African Americans from Charleston to Greenville to Sumter to Kingstree," Bruce said. "But, he was also committed to making sure that this facility continued to serve African Americans, and continued to have the very best in medical practitioners to provide that service. So he reached out to other African American doctors."

Spann worked in the Hampton Street office from 1963 until his death in 1979. The building continued to be used as a medical office until 1995.

To be sure, there were African American surgeons in South Carolina before Spann. For instance, Dr. Matilda Evans was licensed to practice medicine in 1897 and, in 1901, opened Taylor Lane Hospital in Columbia, which served black patients. And there was Dr. W.D. Chappelle Jr., the black physician and surgeon who operated the People's Infirmary at the corner of Gervais and Harden streets beginning in 1914 (in the building that now houses the Free Times office).

But Spann's contributions were significant. According to National Register of Historic Places nomination paperwork, and the Green Book of South Carolina, the state African American Heritage Commission's travel guide for African American cultural sites, Spann was the only professionally trained black surgeon in South Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s. He also was the chief of staff at the Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital from 1966 to 1973. He was known to travel across the state to do surgeries for black patients in an era when many facilities were still segregated.

Spann also was active in civil rights. When more than 100 student activists and others were jailed following a demonstration on the Statehouse grounds in 1961, Spann stepped in. Toal remembered the incident.

"A courageous group of men, who risked their professional livelihoods to be stalwarts in the NAACP at that time, led by Dr. C.O. Spann raised the money to get those demonstrators out of jail," Toal said. "In addition to a very distinguished medical history ... Dr. Spann also made it his business to change what was then legally enforced segregation."

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