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First black Seventh-day Adventist medical facility receives historical marker By Lucas Johnson II

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper says the history of the Riverside Sanitarium, the first black Seventh-day Adventist medical facility, should be celebrated.

A special program sponsored by the Riverside Historical Society was held at Riverside SDA Church on Sept. 29 to unveil a historical marker for the Sanitarium, which would later become the Riverside Sanitarium and Hospital.  

Cooper, who represents Tennessee’s 5th District, was among community leaders and health care officials who attended the event. He acknowledged being “embarrassed” that he was not aware of the medical facility’s rich history.

“I did not know this history,” said Cooper, who spoke at the event. “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. This is a history to recognize and to celebrate.”

Albert Dudley (foreground ) and Bennie Thompson (background) unveiling the Historical Marker.

Other speakers at the program before the unveiling of the marker included Womack H. Rucker, Jr., the last president of Riverside Hospital; and Dr. Peter Edmund Millet, executive vice president at Meharry Medical College. 

Also in attendance were relatives of people who worked at the sanitarium and hospital, as well as people who may have received treatment at the facility.

Located on a high, rocky plateau at the bend of the Cumberland River in North Nashville, the Riverside Sanitarium expanded to a hospital in 1927 under the direction of Nellie H. Druillard. The facility, which focused on alternative therapies, served Nashville’s African-American residents and attracted black physicians and nurses from around the country. Among the hospital’s physicians was Dr. Carl Ashley Dent, who became the facility’s medical director in 1940. 


Former employees and volunteers of Riverside Hospital.

Adventist Health System closed Riverside Hospital in 1983. But the Riverside Historical Society is making sure that its legacy continues.

“So many people made sacrifices,” said Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Riverside Historical Society. “This is about the sacrifices that were made, and that going forward, we need to expect more out of each other, and out of the people who come behind us.”

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