Celebrating Black History Month in February and Beyond

On February 26, 2024
In Blog

By Gianna Chaney, Equity Health Center Intern

February is recognized as Black History Month, a period dedicated to honoring the cultural achievements, sacrifices, and heritage of Black individuals and their collective narratives. In the City of Coatesville, where 42.8% of the populace identifies as Black or African American, this commemoration holds significant meaning. The city boasts a profound history intricately interwoven with the Black community, dating back to the late 1700s when it flourished as a prominent steel town that rapidly expanded with the arrival of blue-collar laborers. Amid this growth, a tragic incident unfolded in 1911 when Zachariah Walker, a Coatesville native, endured a brutal and public execution. The subsequent investigation by the NAACP shed light on this event, sparking a global outcry against the abhorrent practice of lynching and underscoring the imperative of eradicating such atrocities. While federal legislation addressing lynching remained elusive, Pennsylvania took a significant stride by passing anti-lynching laws in 1923, underscoring Coatesville’s dedication to upholding justice. Black History Month presents a poignant juncture for Coatesville to introspect on its history, honoring its past while actively fostering a more inclusive and promising future.

Honoring Historic Coatesville Figure Whittier C. Atkinson

On Chestnut Street in Coatesville, an historic marker pays tribute to Whittier C. Atkinson. Born on the southeastern coast of Georgia, Atkinson held the distinction of being the eldest among his 17 siblings. Following his graduation from Howard University in 1924, he embarked on a medical career in Coatesville, focusing on addressing the healthcare needs of a burgeoning diverse community.

Atkinson’s legacy includes being the inaugural Black president of the Chester County Medical Society. In 1936, he established the Clement Atkinson Memorial Hospital, named after his father, with a vision to provide quality healthcare to all, irrespective of their financial means. Notably, during the hospital’s initial five years, half of the inpatient care was administered free of charge. In recognition of his contributions, Dr. Atkinson was honored as the Pennsylvania Practitioner of the Year in 1960.

Beyond his medical endeavors, he played a pivotal role in the community by founding the Progressive Civics League of Coatesville and serving as the Vice-President of the Greater Coatesville Interracial Committee. The Clement Atkinson Memorial Hospital operated until 1978 when it was repurposed as a community center. In 2011, the edifice on Chestnut Street was included in the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Atkinson’s legacy revolutionized healthcare access for the Black community and stands as a testament to his impactful career.

Honoring Black History Month Today and Tomorrow

Black History Month serves as a period for reflection, learning, and comprehending the historical impact on contemporary society. It is crucial to not only dedicate time in February but also incorporate this recognition into our daily lives to honor Black communities. St. Louis’ Home of Education, Arts, and Culture presents a comprehensive list of 28 ways for individuals of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate Black History Month. Suggestions include exploring historical museums, engaging with literature, and supporting local Black-owned businesses. The Chester County History Museum offers underground railroad tours and delves into historic sites that have played a pivotal role in the narratives of courageous individuals who assisted enslaved individuals on their path to freedom through West Chester.

Kevin Ressler, President and CEO of The Alliance for Health Equity, tasked his team with reading “Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine” by Dr. Uché Blackstock. Dr. Blackstock, a healthcare professional and advocate against bias and racism in the medical field, portrays a compelling journey through the intricate intersection of racism and healthcare. “Legacy” serves as a poignant critique of our healthcare system, a narrative of generational experiences, and a call to action, detailing Dr. Blackstock’s evolution from childhood to medical practice and her emergence as a health equity champion amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. These literary works, as well as other insightful, Black-authored books, are vital in expanding our understanding of how past experiences can shape a more inclusive future for society. For those interested in borrowing “Legacy” from The Alliance for Health Equity, please contact Alyssa Kotzmann, Marketing and Communications Manager, at 484.257.9821 or akotzmann@alliancehealthequity.org.