SLOSSFIELD COMMUNITY CENTER

The community center that revolutionized public healthcare in Alabama and helped thousands in Birmingham throughout the mid-20th century.

The health clinic at ​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb​

The Slossfield Community Center was built by the American Cast Iron Pipe Company - ACIPCO - as an extension of their industrial health program that served workers and their families. The Art Deco styled building complex was designed by E. B. Van Keuren and constructed in phases between 1936 and 1939 by the Works Progress Administration.

The site, which formerly housed Birmingham's municipal stables, was donated in exchange for the cost of relocating the stables and constructed with the benefit of sizable public funding to serve the surrounding Slossfield neighborhood, considered one of the poorest in the southeast. In the 1930s, the Slossfield neighborhood surrounded ACIPCO’s plant and even during the Great Depression this area was considered one of Birmingham's most blighted. Thousands of African-Americans lived in shotgun houses without plumbing on dirt streets.

​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The Slossfield Community Center would serve over 50,000 African American citizens in this area and consisted of a health clinic, maternity ward, a recreation center, and an education building.

Programs for the education and recreation centers at the community center were provided by the National Youth Administration. Additional support came from a local "community chest" funded by area families. The Slossfield Branch Library and Lewis Elementary School were constructed in the community adjacent to the complex.

The health clinic, which opened on July 1, 1939, provided prenatal care and obstetrics through delivery rooms in the clinic itself as well as house calls.

An early form of universal healthcare, patients at the clinic had to demonstrate an inability to

PIC 3.jpg

Domestic service classes at ​Slossfield, 1937. Photo from Birmingham Public Library exhibit archives.

afford private health care. The healthcare clinic at Slossfield also offered general pediatric care, dental care, tuberculosis treatment, and venereal disease detection and treatment. The clinic's diagnostic facilities were focused entirely on the detection of syphilis, and patients with other conditions were referred to other medical facilities for treatment.

​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The clinic was expanded from 28 to 39 rooms in 1941 with assistance from the Jefferson County Board of Health, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Alabama State Department of Health, the Children's Bureau, and the Jefferson County Anti-Tuberculosis Association via the Birmingham Health Association (a subsidiary serving the black community).

Dr. Thomas Boulware, later nicknamed ‘The Old Stork’, was recruited to Birmingham by Charles Carraway, founder of the Carraway Hospital. Dr. Boulware crossed racial barriers in a public health movement in 1939 to assist the impoverished Slossfield neighborhood. He is responsible for many revolutions in obstetrics in Alabama including the first pregnancy test administered, the first OB/GYN residency approved in the state, and the first Cesarean section performed. Dr. Boulware also trained black physicians such as Dr. Robert Stewart, who would become Alabama's first black OB/GYN practitioner.

​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The neighborhood lacked significant maternity care and 10 out of every 100 babies born died. Within the first 3 years, the stillbirth rate and neonatal deaths at Slossfield were cut in half largely due to Dr. Boulware's dedication to providing better prenatal care to mothers and their babies. Dr. Boulware retired in 1977 after birthing 21,000 babies over his 48 year career.

The clinic at Slossfield served as a training center for graduate students and would also provide health education to the public. It stood out as a national example of a high-quality community health-care facility and as a key component of a publicly-funded system for preserving public health.

The education building at ​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Slossfield’s medical center was closed in 1948 following World War II. A post-war bill from Senator Lister Hill to fund new hospital construction in underprivileged areas rendered this small clinic obsolete. The rest of the community center campus closed in 1954, though the recreational center and education building were sporadically used until the late 1970s as storage for the Birmingham City Public School system. After its abandonment, hundreds of old records were left inside Slossfield, piled high in rooms among peeling paint and broken glass from surrounding windows.

The Slossfield Community Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 2008, largely due to Dr. Boulware and his contributions while working at Slossfield.

Walkway between the clinic and recreation center at ​Slossfield | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The Salvation Army had previously purchased and renovated the nearby Lewis Elementary School into its Salvation Army Center of Hope. In 2017, they also considered purchasing Slossfield Community Center and its land from the city in order to renovate the community center into a Worship and Community Outreach Center, but it still remains to be seen whether this plan will come to pass.

As it is, there are no definite plans regarding the Slossfield Community Center, which remains vacant. Hints of what the center used to be still peek through the grime – dirt-caked carpet peeled up in some places to reveal the original tile floors underneath and waiting room chairs still sit arranged in the clinic building which bears the community center’s name in peeling letters half hidden behind overgrown trees.

The recreation center at ​Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

© 2018 by NIESA LENOX. Layout created with Wix.com