About the Chronicles:
I spent eight years writing The Black Angels, and the story of the nurses was culled almost exclusively from oral history. Over that time, I've amassed hundreds of hours of interviews with Dr. Robitzek's son, the original trial patients, members of the SI community, but mostly with the families of the nurses, and Virginia Allen, one of the last living Black Angels.
This page is an on-going repository for me to share some of the many audio and video interviews along with photos and bios and stories of the Black Angels.
(**Please note: the material on this page is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission)
Virginia Allen recalling her days working at Sea View with “patients who had little hope," the legacy of Black Angels, and what she would impart to the next generation.
(Video Credit: Eamon Hassan)
Virginia Allen talking about growing up during the depression: "I didn't realize I was poor until I grew up."
(Video Credit: Eamon Hassan)
Marjorie Tucker Reed
(December 15, 1925 - November 17, 2019)
Marjorie was born in Norfolk, VA and came to Staten Island when she was 10. In 1946, she applied to work at Sea View because she said, "I was looking for job and my baby was very young." She started as an aide and fell in love with nursing. Eventually she received her degree and had a successful and career that spanned over 40 years working as a pediatric surgical nurse where, she said, "they were taking out lungs" by the dozens.
Clemmie was born in 1904 in Bainbridge, GA, a rural and bucolic town that sits in the middle of three rivers: Flint, Chattahoochee, and Apalachicola and was rife with Native American lore. Unique to Bainbridge is Fuller's Earth, a clay used in the early days for bleaching petroleum and cleansing grease from wool, was mined during the county's formative years.
Growing up, Clemmie's family was beset by poverty. She lived in a 3 room shotgun house with no electricity. Her four older brothers left town to find work, but fell in "with bad people," her granddaughter said. And her sister, eight years old, was "cruel, and mean." From the age of 5, Clemmie was helping her mother wash and iron clothes.
She excelled at school, and moved to Savannah to attend the Georgia Infirmary. While there she met and married Willard Elmo Phillips and they had a daughter. When Clemmie was recruited to Sea View, she left her daughter behind with her "cruel" sister, because she had no choice.
Like Edna, she worked the 3-11 shift, and would come home alone. Once she was attacked in the elevator in her building, but she fought back.
Her family told me she was a mean card player, who threw parties on Friday nights. She enjoyed a "stiff drink" and a smoke and loved to win. Often "she cheated to win," her grand-daughter told me. Around the card table, the nurses gossiped and talked about politics and history and men.
But, despite cheating, Clemmie, was an "upright woman, who couldn’t tolerate liars." She instilled Christian values in her daughter and granddaughter, especially empathy, and understanding a person who might have less. She reiterated being truthful and setting goals for yourself. She was immaculately clean—“cleanliness is next to godliness," she'd say.
She became a supervisor at Sea View and enjoyed a long career working in the men's war.
Kate was born in 1899 in Selma, AL and raised in the small town of Bessmer, 91 miles from Montgomery. She was the oldest of 10 children born in succession to her mother Emma, a strict but loving woman who was draconian about education and the ethic of hard work, a trait that Kate would inherit. Her father Thomas Anderson, an imposing and serious white man, with striking blue eyes that Kate inherited, was 40 years older than her mother. His success as a farm worker and cattle owner gave Kate and all her siblings the opportunity to focus on one thing, school.
She graduated from Hale Nursing School and worked in Alabama for years, before deciding in 1932 to leave for Sea View because she didn't want her 5 year old son, Keever, growing up in the south, a place of fear and terror and violence. Once, her family asked her why she left, and she answered, "there was strange fruit growing on trees."
At Sea View, Kate worked in the Employee Clinic and then moved to the wards, where she eventually became a supervisor.
Phyllis Alfreda Hall Lambert
Phyllis was born in 1909 in the rural town of Alachua, FL--in 1905 it had a population of 526 residents. It was a hub for the cotton industry that helped to expand the town. Phyllis came from a large family that struggled with poverty. Her grandfather was a methodist minister, and at some point, according to her family, she was sent to the Baldwin School for Colored girls.
After she graduated, she enrolled in the George E. Brewster School of Nurse Training in Jacksonville, FL. In 1940, she was recruited to Sea View where she worked for almost 40 years. She owned a home on Bradley Avenue, and her family described her as "outgoing and friendly, a mostly happy and caring person, who loved her job."