Burwell Infirmary filled a need

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2018

By Oniska Blevins | The Selma Times-Journal

During a time where healthcare for African Americans in the south was far and few between, Dr. Lincoln L. Burwell filled that need in Selma.

In 1907, Burwell founded Burwell’s Infirmary, the city’s first black owned and operated hospital in Selma.

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Although the Smitherman Building provided medical services to African Americans in Selma from 1865-1868, the Burwell Infirmary was the first black hospital to be founded, operated and serviced by an African American for African American patients.

According to an article written in a 1911 edition of The Selma Mirror, Burwell’s Infirmary “filled a long felt want amongst the colored population of Selma and is growing in popularity with them every day.”

Originally Burwell’s Drug Store, the hospital rooms were described as “comfortable” and “properly equipped for all kinds of operations.”

Selma’s black history that precedes the Civil Rights Movement is often forgotten, according to Brenda Smothers, founder of Blackbelt African American Genealogical and Historical Society.

“They forget the 100 years in-between when Selma was a hub of African American education in the deep South,” Smothers said. She added black people in Selma were pioneers and held many prominent positions in the community.

“There were teachers, clergymen, doctors and all kinds of professionals,” she said.

Burwell was included amongst those pioneers, and in Volume 20 of the Journal of the National Medical Association he was hailed as “even tempered, friendly and always ready to help a worthy cause.”

The publication described Burwell as “generous in his support of all movements in his city and state that had to do with the betterment of his people.”

Smothers believes people like Burwell’s influence transcended time and had lasting effects.

“It was a period of self-determination,” she said.

She said because of prominent African Americans during the Reconstruction era, the foundation for change was laid out for the future civil rights leaders.

Smothers said even though some people were just a few years removed from slavery or a generation removed from slavery, African Americans still prospered and made history in the South.

Author Alston Fitts III, a Selma historian, wrote in his book, Selma: A Bicentennial History, that Dr. Burwell’s head nurse, Minnie B. Anderson, took over the hospital after his death in 1928 and ran it with her husband, Marius Anderson. They later changed the hospital to Anderson Nursing Home in 1966.