Despite its reputation for preserving the past, modern-day Charleston in some ways bears little resemblance to the city where the Hospital Workers Strike unfolded 50 years ago.
The 29 Hagood Ave. home where strike leader Mary Moultrie lived is long gone, and the International Longshoremen’s Local 1422 has moved twice since strike supporters met at its 141 East Bay St. union hall.
The Charleston County Hospital, where the strike eventually spread, was remodeled and later closed. And the old jail on the harbor, nicknamed the Seabreeze Hotel — which county officials briefly considered reopening to house an expected glut of arrested picketers and protesters — is now office space.
But some landmarks survive.
Not surprisingly, most of them are African American churches — institutions that served as rallying points before and after marches, safe havens where strikers and their supporters could seek shelter as they gathered to press their case.
Here’s a 2-mile route that includes many of them:
- The Medical University Hospital at 171 Ashley Ave. contains the only public acknowledgement of the strike, a roadside marker installed in 2013. That’s fitting since the hospital and its nearby horseshoe were ground zero for picketing.
- Emanuel AME Church at 110 Calhoun St. was one of several African American churches where protesters met to organize or rally before or after marches. Nearby, the Courtyard by Marriott, then a Holiday Inn, housed some national civil rights figures who traveled here.
- The Fourth Baptist Church at Elizabeth and Charlotte streets was the site of a March 31 press conference by Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young, that helped garner national attention of the strike.
- The Memorial Baptist Church is a small church at 141 Alexander St. that was home to one of the most dramatic days of the strike. On June 21, after a four-hour service, Charleston police arrested Abernathy after telling him that he and approximately 400 followers would not be allowed to march that night. Abernathy’s arrest caused some to throw bricks and bottles, and a news van was overturned on Chapel Street, according to the account in The News and Courier. Before his arrest, Abernathy prayed publicly and said of Charleston Police Chief John Conroy: “We thought the chief was the most sane official in the city, but he has turned his back on us and won’t let us go to our praying ground.”
- Morris Brown AME and Morris Street Baptist Church saw their share of events, including a May 21 press conference in which Abernathy predicted that the nurse’s Local 1199B is the “union that will soon bring the city of Charleston to its knees.” It also was the starting point for the May 1 protest march in which Coretta Scott King led 5,000 marchers to the Medical Hospital.
- Central Baptist Church at 24 Radcliffe St. was the site of a rally days before the main May 1 march. More than 100 young marchers set out after the rally and headed down to Broad and Meeting streets, where Conroy met them and ordered them to disperse.
As with the other incidents, no one was seriously injured, though the tension was palpable. Just days before the strike ended, The News and Courier’s editorial page said, “We call on everybody — regardless of his or her views about the hospital strike — to assume personal responsibility for preserving order and preventing disaster.”