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Legacies of Care: AARP Volunteer Archives Stories from FAMU Hospital

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AARP Volunteer Shauna Smith, a retired college professor, is embarking on an inspiring mission to preserve Tallahassee’s rich history by collecting stories of people who have a connection to the Florida A&M University (FAMU) hospital. As part of city’s rich heritage, Smith is gathering stories to preserve a vital piece of Tallahassee’s history by archiving the stories of people who were born or worked at the hospital.

Smith was born in Tallahassee in 1954 at the FAMU hospital, and her Tallahassee roots run deep. She recalls memories of growing up near FAMU’s campus and the community of her youth.

“FAMU was an integral part of my childhood,” said Smith “I remember spending time with other kids who were born at the FAMU hospital and who attended FAMU’s elementary school and high schools.”

She keeps in touch with several of her childhood friends, she shares. She grew up near the campus and the FAMU community played a large part in her formative years. Her father was a Sociology professor, and her mother was a Physical Education professor, both at FAMU. She continued to pursue her education in Tallahassee, going on to serve others and make an impact in her community as a speech therapist. She recently retired after working a professor at Tallahassee Community College and began her archiving project for the FAMU Hospital to preserve stories like her own.

“We have the opportunity to capture so many unique stories from this time in history,” said Smith. “There is a lot of recorded history around the building itself, but it is vital for us to collect the stories of people who played a role here. There are so many doctors, nurses and even babies born at the hospital who have contributed significantly to both Tallahassee and Florida history”

Florida Agriculture & Mechanical Hospital was the first institution in Florida that provided medical care to African Americans, who, during the segregation period, were not permitted to receive care at other hospitals in the state. There was no other such institution within 150 miles of Tallahassee.

The hospital opened in 1911 and was originally designated a sanitarium but was turned into a hospital to allow FAMU to create a nursing program. FAMU became the first school—black or white—to offer an accredited undergraduate nursing program in Florida.

The hospital closed as a result of the Civil Rights Act, and the government's threat to withhold Medicare funding from both the FAMU hospital and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital if racial segregation continued. Tallahassee Memorial began admitting African American patients, and funding which previously supported the FAMU Hospital, was transferred to Tallahassee Memorial. State funding ended in 1967 and in 1971, the Hospital Board announced that it was closing the hospital.

With many of the stories of FAMU’s hospital being lost to time, Smith knew she had to do something. As she nears her 70th birthday, she aims to find people both near her age and younger who were born at the hospital and collect their stories.

Another inspiration for this project is Tallahassee’s bi-centennial celebration, which provides a great opportunity to collect community stories. She’s created a Facebook group, where those born at the hospital can connect and provide updates on their lives. She is currently in the process of planning a gathering for those who are connected to FAMU’s hospital. The FAMU Hospital Babies Facebook group has connected over 130 individuals who were born in the hospital, and Smith continues to work to identify more. She encourages those who can share their stories to join the Facebook group and connect with her for upcoming information and events.

“Eventually, I would like to create a donor board in commemoration of those who have a connection to the hospital. I think it would be great to use donations to give back in the form of a scholarship for the FAMU nursing program,” she shares. For now, she continues to spread the word on her project, hoping to connect with more individuals born in the hospital.

If you or someone you know has a connection to the Florida A&M University hospital and would like to share your story, join the FAMU Hospital Babies Facebook Group, or connect with Shauna Smith via text message at 850-855-5485.

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