Excerpt from Capital Gazette:
at started as a small prenatal and postpartum health care program for African-American women has grown over 80 years into a multipurpose health center that provides services to people all over the county.
That prenatal and postpartum care facility was run out of a church sanctuary, now known as Cecil Memorial United Methodist Church.
Women would be seen at the church, where they hung up sheets for privacy. Its start was due in large part to governmental concerns about infant mortality in Anne Arundel County, which had one of the highest rates in Maryland. The county health department was offering free prenatal and postpartum care to areas with space to do so.
“Some of them weren’t able to pay for the care they needed at that time,” said Alice K. Wright, president of the Community Health Center at Parole. “The health center provided that.”
“That enabled the moms to have the appropriate care, and babies were born healthy.”
But it was apparent Parole, especially its African-American community, would need expanded health care, so in 1946 construction began on a multipurpose community health center, which still stands on Drew Street to this day. It was renovated and expanded in 2002. Now the center offers health care services as well as a day care and a conference room.
The health center is set to be recognized by the Annapolis City Council on Monday, when it will vote on making the center a city landmark. This would put it under the protection of the Historic Preservation Commission. It would be the first such landmark outside the city’s historic district.
The commission has recommended the land marking of the property based on its cultural significance to the Annapolis area.
“It is just a wonderful example of so much of the overlooked history in our community,” said Sharon Kennedy, Historic Preservation Commission chair. “It is really rich and deep and worthy of our protection.”
While the center now serves a multicultural group of people, a Spanish version of its history is hung next to its English counterpart — its legacy is a response to segregation.
In the 1930s and ’40s it could be difficult for African-American women to find care. The Anne Arundel hospital, then known as Emergency Hospital, would treat black medical and surgical patients, but it didn’t offer maternity care to black women until 1955. This left the women with the choice of maternity wards in Annapolis, midwife delivery at home or lengthy travel to a black-owned hospital in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, according to a written history submitted to the commission.
The Rev. John T. Chambers Sr. was president of the Parole Elementary School PTA when he was approached by Walter Mills, who was principal of the school. Mills wanted to take advantage of a county push to provide more prenatal and postpartum care. The government would provide the care for free if local groups provided the facility.
Mills and Chambers mobilized the community to raise the money necessary to start the health center. After the money was secured, Chambers went to the community to find volunteers to build the facility on Drew Street. It was built by African-Americans to serve the African-American community and is owned by that same community.
The volunteer work didn’t end there, with the health center maintained by an all-volunteer 25-person board. The chairman of the board, Lawrence L. Harris Jr., said the volunteer spirit has kept the center well maintained and locally focused.
“We are fulfilling a need to a community,” Harris said.
If the council approves the landmark designation, not much would change for the health center itself. It would still provide services to residents in need. But the decision does help protect the center if it were ever to become a target for demolition.
Because its landmark designation is more about its cultural significance than the building itself, the property wouldn’t be required to follow as strict renovation and repair guidelines, like other properties within Annapolis’ historic district.
But most importantly:
“The legacy of our founders has been fulfilled and maintained,” Harris said. “(The landmark) cements that legacy.”