Dr.June Jackson Christmas, a psychiatrist, was the first African-American womanappointed Commissioner of the New York City Department Health and MentalRetardation Services by Mayor Lindsay in 1972. She was re-appointed by MayorsBeame and Koch, and sat on the Board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation,the city agency that operates Municipal Hospitals and neighborhood family carecenters.  

Inthis podcast, Dr. Christmas discusses the symbolic importance of Sydenham Hospitalas the first integrated not-for-profit hospital in the city to the blackcommunity in Harlem. Dr. Christmas was forced to support the controversial closingof the hospital in 1980 saying “I had orders to support the closing becausethat was the city policy.” However, she offered alternatives for the hospital’sfuture that were rejected.  

Openedin 1925 as a private hospital, Sydenham was the only place black doctors hadadmitting privileges. By the time Sydenham was taken over by the city in 1949, whenit went into bankruptcy, black doctors were slowly able to admit patients inmore hospitals across the city.  

Duringthe 1970s New York City fiscal crisis, Sydenham was one of the four hospitals designatedto close in order to save the newer hospitals in the Health and HospitalsCorporation system. New York State cited Sydenham, high maintenance costs and itsdifficulty complying with newer hospital codes.

Protestorsopposed the closing of Sydenham citing a public health concern that the nearesthospital, Harlem Hospital was 12 blocks away and often operated at full capacity.Much opposition came from union members over the loss of jobs, although anagreement between the City and Federal Government stipulated that workers wouldbe moved to other health facilities across the city.

Todaythe former Sydenham hospital is a 10- story building housing the elderly andhandicapped. Mayor Koch has since admitted that he was wrong to close thehospital and failed to see the symbolism for the Harlem community.

LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY
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