There are some truly incredible people here in the LaGrange/Troup County community. However, every now and then, you meet people here whose stories are that of courage, bravery, and strength beyond the realm of what a normal human being should be able to bear. These are people that pick up their crosses, crosses that often times others cast upon them, and carry them throughout their lives while still doing all they can to help others. This is the story of the MDTA Practical Nursing Class of 1964-1965 and their celebration this past Sunday, April 23 at Antioch Baptist Church.
In 1964, after testing from the department of labor, there were 20 different women from the African American community to be a part of a class hosted by the federal government to be trained for nursing school. The class called the MDTA, or the Manpower Development Training Act, produced 20 candidates to become practical nurses. This class had no restrictions on race, religion, or anything of that nature as some other classes did at the time, even other classes in the local community. This class, along with one other that followed it, were the only two MDTA classes that were ever held in the community.
Vera Griggs, Reed at the time, went on to be the first black 3-11 shift nursing supervisor, Mary Alice Gunn became the first black 11-7 nursing supervisor, Dorothy Bush transferred to the health department and became the first black public health nurse as well as the first black public health lead nurse, and Bertha Broughton remained in the medical intensive care for 31 years. The story of these women is truly incredible and that Sunday evening, the Antioch Baptist Church was packed to the brim to hear the stories of these women.
The ceremony that afternoon was not only uplifting and inspiring, but hilarious as well. These women were so full of grace and bluntly hilarious. There were many special happenings that day. Councilwoman Norma Tucker helped in the honoring of these women by giving out certificates and roses to those that were in attendance. Mayor Jim Thornton was also there to present a proclamation on behalf of the city to honor these women.
The main speaker for the day was Dr. Willie Edmonson. Dr. Edmonson had come aboard at County/City Hospital in the early 70’s and worked very closely with all of the women from that first MDTA class and boy did he have some stories to tell. He spoke about the “echoes through the halls of time,” recounting stories of the doctors and the nurses there at the time, most of which were hilarious and moved the crowd into an uproar. In addition, Dr. Edmonson also spoke of the struggles that these women went through, about how they were not allowed past the first floor of the hospital for many years, and in general all of the racial factors that they had to overcome in order to be able to care for their patients. It was truly a moving speech.
All in all, the honoring of the 1964-1965 MDTA practical nursing class was moving, hilarious, and very special. This group of women has lived through so much negativity yet here they are 50 plus years later to celebrate with one another and tell their story. It was an honor and a privilege to share that time with them on that afternoon and to be able to honor them for their service and dedication to so many people here in LaGrange and Troup County.
Jeremy Andrews Staff Writer