Built about 1938-39 by Dr. Edson E. Blackman, a physician of statewide importance during the 1930s and 1940s for his pathbreaking work to document and end the substandard conditions of African American hospitals under segregation. Blackman’s son, Edson E. Blackman, Jr., became one of the first four African Americans to win the rank of sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, 1943.
The Journal of the Old North State Medical Society spotlighted Dr. Blackman’s career in a 1954 article:
“Probably one of the most energetic men of the older brigade in the Old North State Medical Society is Dr. Edson E. Blackman of Charlotte. Dr. Blackman was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, and was educated in the grammar school and Royal Institute of Port of Spain, Trinidad. He did his college work at St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, graduating in the spring of 1913. He received his medical education at Meharry Medical College, completing his work in 1917, and continued his medical service with an interneship at St. Agnes Hospital in Raleigh.
“Following his interneship he located and began his practice in Charlotte in 1918 and has been associated with the Good Samaritan Hospital since that time. Dr. Blackman has served this institution as Chairman of the Staff, Chief of the Surgical Staff and Attending Surgeon. For several years he was connected with the Health Department of the City of Charlotte and was appointed by the late Governor Broughton as a member of the Commission on Hospital and Better Medical Care for the State of North Carolina. He was cited by his Alma Mater with a Gold Medal for the outstanding service he had rendered to his fellow men in the field of medicine and civic activity.
“Dr. Blackman has been a steadfast member of the Old North State Medical Society since 1919 and has served as its President. He is a former Vice President of the National Medical Association and was co-founder and the first President of the John H. Hale Surgical Society of the Carolinas. At the present time he is Junior Warden of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Charlotte, and is Chairman of the District Organization of the Laymen’s League. He is a member of the Beta Kappa Chi National Honorary Society, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and has served as President of the General Alumni Association of St. Augustine’s College as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of his Alma Mater.”
When Dr. Blackman moved into McCrorey Heights in November of 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier, a national black newspaper, took notice. Under the headline, “Housewarming of the Blackmans in Charlotte,” the paper reported that “over 300 friends came during the evening to pay their respects to the Blackman family, who are numbered among the first citizens of Charlotte.” Singing, piano selections, and blessings from two Episcopal priests filled the “new home on Oaklawn, which is a two-story, eight-room brick structure, made colonial style.”
In 1945 Blackman was tapped by North Carolina’s governor to chair the “Negro section” of a comprehensive survey of medical care statewide. The survey was part of an effort by Southern governors to convince the federal government begin aiding healthcare, especially for underserved populations. Blackman’s report, “Negro Hospital and Medical Needs in North Carolina,” documented the stark shortcomings of “separate but equal” healthcare. “The Negro death rate in North Carolina in 1940 was 146% that of the white death rate—an appalling difference … State has only 129 active Negro physicians—or 1 for each 7,783 Negro people … and only … 1.7 hospital beds for each 1,000 Negroes—less than half the American standard.” Even in Mecklenburg County, home to long-established Good Samaritan Hospital for African Americans, there were just 2.7 hospital beds per 1000 black residents, compared with 6.52 per 1000 whites.
The report’s impact reached beyond North Carolina. In 1946, responding to the lobbying by Southern governors, the U.S. Congress passed the Hill-Burton Act. For the first time, Washington offered on-going aid to localities to assist in hospital construction. The bill required that facilities built with federal dollars could not discriminate on the basis of race. It would take years for that promise to be fully realized; not until the 1963 Supreme Court landmark Simkins v. Cone case in Greensboro, N.C. would segregated facilities be explicitly outlawed. But beginning in 1946, Civil Rights activists had a federal funding lever that they could use to put pressure on local white medical leaders.
Dr. Blackman continued to push for equality many fronts. He helped organize the black Parent Teacher Associations across the city to ask for larger appropriations for African American schools in 1946. He ran for School Board in 1947, a courageous act in an era when no African Americans served on any elected body in the South. In 1953 he joined with most of the city’s other black doctors in a study calling for expansion of Good Samaritan Hospital. For his decades of effort locally and across the state, his fellow black physicians in the Old North State Medical Society named him Doctor of the Year in 1959.
Dr. Blackman’s wife Gertrude McWilliams Blackman (died 1970) was a leader among Charlotte’s nurses. She had graduated from the nursing program at St. Agnes Hospital in Raleigh in 1917 and worked as a hospital dietician there. In Charlotte she became a clinical technician at Good Samaritan Hospital and in the 1940s headed its Florence Nightingale Club, the professional association of nurses. In 1946 she helped found the Charlotte chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, an activist organization that had been started by Civil Rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935. Gertrude and Edson had two sons: Edson E. Jr. (died 1970) and George Ernest (1921 – 1986). Dr. Blackman died at age 75 in December of 1961. Mrs. Blackman stayed in the house on Oaklawn Avenue as long as she could, then went to live in Buffalo, New York, to be near son Dr. George E. Blackman, like his father a physician — who became the first-ever African American elected to the American College of Surgeons. George carried his father’s legacy further in early May of 1970 when he became the first African American to chair the Buffalo school board. Mother Gertrude lived just long enough to see that; she passed away barely a week later.
Edson E. Blackman, Jr., who was completing high school as his family moved into this house on Oaklawn Avenue, would soon make history himself on the national stage. He showed an early aptitude for leadership, elected president of Student Council at Second Ward High in 1935. He went on to University of Michigan where he earned a Masters in Business Administration in 1941.
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, African Americans seized the moment to push for equality. The NAACP’s “Double V” campaign argued that victory for the U.S. on the battlefield would come quicker if African American energy was unleashed — victory for equality. White military leaders saw logic in that call and in 1942 the elite Marine Corps announced it would accept black recruits. The first 600 African Americans reported to Monford Point at Camp LeJune, North Carolina, August 26, 1942.
Blackman became one of the fastest-rising of the early inductees. The June 1943 issue of The Crisis, national magazine of the NAACP, proudly reported: “First Negro Marines to receive ranks of sergeant are: Edson E. Blackman, Jr., Charles F. Anderson, Gilbert H. Johnson and John T. Pridgen.”
Colonial Revival, two-story in red brick. The gable roof has a heavy molded cornice with returns at the gable ends. Windows are six-over-six pane double-hung wooden sash flanked by wooden shutters. The central front door is topped by a broken pediment, a characteristic Colonial Revival touch. Typical of Colonial Revival homes in the 1930s, the house only has a small front stoop rather than a covered porch — a rarity in McCrorey Heights where nearly every dwelling has a front porch. The side carport was added in 1975 by longtime resident Mattie Gaines.
Date issued: March 28, 1975
Owner: Mattie Gaines
Contractor: Squires Construction Company
Estimated cost: $900
Other permit info: build carport
Building permit files, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
First appeared in city directory
1939 – Dr. Edson E. Blackman & Gertrude.
He: Physician at 235 S. Brevard Rm 7. She: no occupation listed.
(Also at this address: Edson E. Jr, student).
1969 – Mrs. Gertrude Blackman, widow Edson E.
1973 – Stano Gaines & Mattie B.
He: employed Associated Grocers. She: no occupation
1981 – Mrs. Mattie B. Gaines. Retired.
City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Blackman, Edson E., “Negro Hospital and Medical Needs in North Carolina,” in Clarence Poe, editor, Final Report of the North Carolina Hospital and Medical Care Commission, 1945. On-line at: http://archives.hsl.unc.edu/ncmp/hsl-nc-0001.pdf
“Dr. Edson Blackman,” Journal of the Old North State Medical Society (March 1954), pp. 3, 20.
“Montford Point Marines,” BlackPast.org website. On-line at: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/montford-point-marines-1942-1945
“Negro Marines Prepare for Action at Camp LeJune,” Carolina Times, May 22, 1943. On-line at: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1943-05-22/ed-1/seq-8/
“The Month,” The Crisis (June 1943), p. 165. On-line at: https://books.google.com/books?id=8FoEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA165&lpg=PA165&dq=Blackman,+Jr.+Negro+Marine&source=bl&ots=E8PeZg5-O9&sig=OVsCeMQBnIAEvFfvSbVTO-bYKbM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjlrvC4l-3TAhUBVCYKHVT9D_4Q6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=Blackman%2C%20Jr.%20Negro%20Marine&f=false
Thomas, Karen Kruse, Delux Jim Crow: Civil Rights and American Health Policy, 1935- 1954 (2011), chapter five.
Thomas, Karen Kruse,”The Hill-Burton Act and Civil Rights: Expanding Hospital Care for Black Southerners, 1939 – 1960,” Journal of Southern History (November 2006).
“Brock Barkley is Named Head of Committee,” Charlotte Observer, March 1, 1946.
“City Man Named Doctor of the Year,” Charlotte Observer, June 11, 1959.
“Program for Improving Good Samaritan Offered,” Charlotte Observer, September 16, 1953.
“P.T.A. Backs Tax Election,” Charlotte Observer, April 2, 1947.
“Second Ward High Elects Council,” Charlotte Observer, April 27, 1935.