Okmulgee City Council Tables Vote To Fund Restoration Of Historic Hospital

Tuesday, November 19th 2013, 11:17 pm
By: News On 6

Hopes of restoring one of the state's first black hospitals were put on hold Tuesday night.

The Okmulgee County Multi-Cultural Heritage Association asked the city council to fix up the old Okmulgee "Colored" Hospital. The hospital was a critical part of the black community in Okmulgee for many years.

The association wants to turn the symbol of segregation into a symbol of community togetherness.

What was once Okmulgee's black hospital is now an eyesore, sitting along the busiest highway in town.

"This is an extraordinary building. This building has remained strong and firm through the years, because it was very well built," said Kathryn Shurden, with the Okmulgee County Multi-Cultural Heritage Association

The group wants the city to use $1 million to preserve and restore the city-owned building. It's been there since 1922, and has sat vacant for decades.

"To think that if its not repaired now, it could be lost forever and this story might not be told, it just breaks my heart," Shurden said.

Shurden said some of the most affluent blacks in the U.S. lived in Okmulgee. They worked and were treated in the hospital.

Now, the building is the future home of the Okmulgee Multicultural Historical Museum. A local non-profit has put a lot of work into the building, but the windows are still boarded up and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. Once it is fixed, the association plans to turn the first floor into a business center and use the second floor as a museum.

It was a packed house as the association went before the city council, which unanimously voted to table the request, for now.

"We can find any number of folks that we could spend a million bucks on a project, but we're trying to responsibly use this," said Councilor Rob Robertson.

Councilors say they want to let citizens in Okmulgee vote on how to spend the money before they decide to use it on the historic hospital.

"The city has been indifferent at best in the past, and they've regarded it as a project that the African American community alone was responsible for," Shurden said.

The council did not say when they will make a decision on this or when those public forums will happen.

As for the association, they are not giving up hope yet. They believe, one way or another, the city will ultimately vote to fund the restoration project.