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Woman born at Wheatley-Provident Hospital recalls its impact on Black community

Wheatley-Provident Hospital in 1926
Marceline Cooley born at the Wheatley
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 07:53:14-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first Black-owned and operated hospital in Kansas City still stands in the 18th and Vine District.

Dr. John Edward Perry created the Wheatley-Provident Hospital in 1916 for African Americans, providing not only employment for Black doctors and nurses, but also health care for the Black community in Kansas City.

The hospital operated for more than 50 years, ending operations in 1972.

Many people born in the hospital are still alive to this day. One of those people is Marceline Cooley, born at the Wheatley in 1938.

At "83 years young," Cooley still remembers what it was like back in the day, when the hospital served as the only option for Black residents in the area. She said health care was an issue for many who could not afford it.

Although she was young at the time Perry was working in the hospital, she remembers him as being an essential part to the growth in health care in the Kansas City area for African Americans.

Marceline Cooley born at the Wheatley
Marceline Cooley was born at the Wheatley-Provident Hospital in 1938.

Not only was Perry instrumental in providing care for Black Kansas Citians, but he also provided opportunities for Black medical professionals to have work.

Cooley said one of her most vivid memories was the time she and her sister got their tonsils pulled by Perry at the Wheatley, adding that the milkshakes that came after the operation were the best part.

The Wheatley became obsolete in 1972 because of the structure of the building. It was set on fire twice in one day and damaged over time. Former owners planned to tear the building down.

"I had read in the paper that they were going to tear down the hospital because they didn't have the funding to keep it," Cooley said. "I had expressed my feelings about that because it's really a part of our history, and I hated to see it be torn down."

The Wheatley was saved from demolition in 2018 when the property was purchased with plans to redevelop.

It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of October 2020.

Cooley said it makes her happy the building will be saved.

"I'm a very strong advocate of saving and having a legacy for our children and our future generations to know about, because it's unfortunate to live a life and never know where you came from," she said.

41 Action News recently went on the African American Heritage Trail for a One Tank Trip. Check out that segment to learn more about the Wheatley hospital.