A new mini-documentary focuses on the contributions of black nurses during an 1940s epidemic of tuberculosis in New York. The film, “Black Angels: A Nurse's Story,” will be shown Tuesday evening at Ohio State’s College of Nursing.
Tuberculosis, a dangerous bacterial infection that attacks the lungs, affected many people in the U.S. through the '40s, particularly those in areas with more poverty. Seaview Hospital on Staten Island operated as the largest sanitarium for TB, with more than 2,000 patients.
"Black Angel" producer Denetra Hampton, a former U.S. Naval Nurse Corps officer, explains that the documentary focuses on one particular nurse: Marjorie Reed. She was 92 years old during production of the film.
Reed had worked at Seaview Hospital during the epidemic when white nurses refused to treat patients.
“When she started working at Seaview Hospital in 1946, the nurses there talked to her as if she didn’t exist,” Hampton says. “But Marjorie Tucker Reed was very clear that she came to work at Seaview Hospital because she was a nurse and she wanted to take care of patients.”
Hampton says while segregation was the rule for staff and patients at some hospitals, more than 300 black nurses from all over the country responded.
“They came up at a time where white nurses refused to take care of these patients, and you have to remember back then there was no cure for tuberculosis, and these nurses stepped in to take care of these patients,” Hampton says.
Hampton says TB patients at Seaview coined the phrase "Black Angels," because all of the nurses they saw were black.
“Even if it cost them their own lives, they went into this hospital to care for patients, so the challenges were numerous,” Hampton says.
In 1951, Edward Robitzek, a Staten Island lung specialist who worked at Seaview Hospital, led testing to find a TB-fighting drug called isoniazid.
Hampton hopes the movie educates viewers about nursing, research and medicine.
“I’m hoping that the people who view this documentary would not only just learn about the plight of these African Americans nurses, but they’ll learn about everything that they’ve done not just then, but now,” Hampton says.