Thereasea Delerine Elder was the first African American public health nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina. Elder was born in 1927 in Lancaster, South Carolina. She was raised in Charlotte in the Greenville neighborhood and attended West Charlotte High School. Elder attended Johnson C. Smith University, enrolling in the US Cadet Nursing Program, an initiative of the U.S. Public Health Service to alleviate the World War II shortage of trained nurses. The largest and youngest group of uniformed women to serve their country, cadet nurses worked in civilian and military hospitals on the Home Front, and in public health clinics.
Elder as a cadet in World War II.
She also attended the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in Durham, North Carolina. She went on to study pediatrics at Howard University's Freeman Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her area of interests included nursing, anatomy, chemistry and child development.
Elder went to work at the African American Good Samaritan Hospital in Charlotte in 1948. That same year she married Wille Elder, a World War II veteran who ran a service station. They would later have two sons, Carl and Cedric. She was certified as a public health nurse and worked with the Mecklenburg County Health Department until her retirement in 1989. When she started her nursing career, she was only allowed to treat African American patients or go to the homes of African Americans. The health department changed their policies in 1970 after the Charlotte Schools were desegregated. After that, Elder could treat anyone, even though she was subject to embarrassing remarks and comments while she was helping her patients, some of whom lived in KKK territories.
African-American nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Active in the community, Elder founded the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Historical Society and the Greenville Community Historical Society and was a charter member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. She also successfully lobbied for water, sewer and paved roads for the community, and participated in voter registration drives, worked with hospice, with teen pregnancy and the American Red Cross.
In 2004, she established a community-based non-profit known as Health Equity, Inc. to identify and eliminate the barriers to adequate healthcare within the minority communities and populations. Among the many honors and awards she received are: Community Service Award (Black Political Caucus, 2005), Pepsi Everyday Freedom Hero Award (National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2007), the Annie Brown Kennedy Trailblazer Award (North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, 2006), Women's Equality Day Community Service Award, James G. Cannon Award, Nine Who Care Award (WSOC-TV), National Sojourner Truth Award and Martin Solomon Award (Black Women's Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 1997), induction into the International Nurses Association and the International Women’s Leadership Association.
The Thereasea Clark Elder Neighborhood Park was created in her honor by the Charlotte Parks and Recreation Department. Additionally, Mecklenburg County Health Department’s Village HeartBEAT faith-based health initiative was named the Thereasea Elders Leadership Academy in her honor.
I think I'll definitely visit this park as a tribute to Mrs. Elder and all public health professionals and health officials in the area once the Mecklenburg County 'Stay at Home' Order is lifted and its safe to do so. Thanks to all of you for keeping us safe!
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Wikipedia: Thereasea Elder
ncheritagecalendar.com - Thereasea Elder
J. Murrey Atkins Library - Special Collections & University Archives - Thereasea D. Elder Papers
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass