Dunbar Hospital

580 Frederick Avenue in the Frederick Avenue Historic District
near Detroit's Cultural Center

During World War I, blacks moved to northern industrial cities in great numbers to fill the occupational slots previously filled by European immigrants. World War I and the German Navy cut off the flow of foreign migrants to Detroit. The booming African American community in these cities needed the services of doctors, lawyers, real estate brokers, bankers, lenders, preachers, morticians and innkeepers. A black middle class emerged. However, Jim Crow was almost as prevalent in the North as in the South. Many restaurants and hotels in Detroit turned away black clients and, while the hospitals accepted black patients, most of them refused to hire black professionals and denied black doctors the right to treat the own patients in such hospitals. From the second decade of the 20th century until its end, there were heated debates in the northern black community about what strategy should be followed to cope with racial discrimination. The NAACP consistently argued that African-Americans should fight discrimination and seek all the rights and privileges that whites enjoyed in northern cities. But in every large city, there were many blacks that believed that strategy would not be effective, so they created separate black institutions—an early type of black power.

This area of Frederick Avenue was home to Detroit's elite in 1892 when this Queen Anne style home was built for businessman Charles Warren, a prosperous Detroit jeweler. By World War I, many prosperous whites moved further away from the city's center and the black population along Hastings Street moved in this direction. On May 20, 1918, thirty African American doctors in Detroit formed the Allied Medical Society. In 1919, that organization, led by Doctors James Ames and Alexander Turner,purchased this home and turned it into a hospital that treated blacks and employed an exclusively black staff. They selected the name Dunbar to honor the Ohio African-American poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Originally this home served as a hospital with 27 beds. In 1924, it was exapnded to 40 beds. A nursing school for black women was established here. In 1927 a much larger facility was needed, so the Allied Medical Society established a larger hospital for blacks, Parkside, at the intersection of Brush and Illinois. That hospital operated for 35 years but closed in 1962 and was than razed so that Detroit Receiving Hospital could be expanded.

Charles Diggs—operator of the prosperous House of Diggs Funeral Home—purchased the hospital on Frederick and made it into his home. In 1937, he became the first black Democrat elected to the state senate in Lansing. His son also became a politician. He was elected to the state house in Lansing in 1950 and then, in 1954, to the US Congress from a largely black congressional district in Detroit . He became the fourth post-Reconstruction Era black to serve in Congress.

Architect and Builder: Guy Vinton
Style : Queen Anne

Date of Completion: 1892
Use in 2009: Vacant
Website describing African American hospitals in metro Detroit: http://ur.umich.edu/0001/Nov06_00/10.htm
State Historical Register: P25082
State Historical Marker: A marker was erected in front of Dunbar Hospital on Frederick but was missing in 2002
National Historical Register: Listed June 19, 1979
Link to National Register website: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/detroit
Photo: Ren Farley; July, 2002

Description Revised: January 31, 2009


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