Dr. L.M. Donalson not only saved lives—he changed them.
His courage and tenacity brought the resource of medical care to
an entirely new community who otherwise would not have had access to it. Through his work and dedication to his patients, Donalson became an in uential gure in not only Lincoln Health System’s history, but in Lincoln County, and even the nation.
After graduating from Meharry Medical College in 1932, Donalson heard that nearby Fayetteville did not have an African American doctor. In the segregated south, the closest hospital for African Americans was 80 miles away. That was all he needed to know. Donalson set out for Fayetteville, originally planning on staying for only a year before establishing a permanent practice
in North Carolina. But Donalson planted his roots in Fayetteville, continuing to practice in Fayetteville for the rest of his career.
Donalson arrived in Lincoln County with nothing but a 96-cent medical bag lled with a box of gauze, adhesive tape, liniment, a tube of catgut, an artery clamp and a needle holder. But his determination to serve his patients with all he had — whether that meant operating by lamplight or walking eight miles to make a house call, since he was without a car — was what brought him success in Fayetteville despite his humble beginnings. He soon realized what the town really needed was not just a black doctor, but a full hospital for black patients. He appealed to churches for help, including a rally in 1935 that raised $500 for the cause — a large sum for the time. The hospital for white patients donated a two-story brick building on its premises to be used for the black hospital, and Fayetteville Negro Hospital was opened in 1936.
The hospital underwent an addition in 1944, but it was destroyed in 1952 by a devastating tornado. A new, modern hospital was built to replace it and later renovated in 1957 to encompass more space. It was the community effort, though, that was most signicant to Donalson.
“This hospital represents more than just a total investment of $199,157.04,” Donalson said during its dedication on Oct. 11, 1959. “It is a symbol of interracial cooperation for both groups working together.”
Until Donalson arrived in Fayetteville, saw the need and took initiative to make a change, there were no other African American hospitals in a town of its size from Washington, D.C. to Tuskegee,
Ala. Donalson changed the landscape of Lincoln County and the lives of many who lived in the area. The National Medical Association named him Practitioner of the Year in 1959 for his accomplishments — making him the rst black doctor to receive the honor — and House Speaker John W. McCormack also entered an article into the Congressional Record when Donalson was elected as President of the Lincoln County Medical Association.