Dr. McClaren's Story

Dr. McClaren's Story

For generations of Black residents in the Upstate, Dr. Edward E. McClaren was renowned as a tireless man with a generous heart, willing to build a bridge over Jim Crow-era segregation to ensure patients had access to quality health care they were denied elsewhere.

Denied care elsewhere

The Abbeville native and graduate of Shaw University and the Medical School of Howard University was denied many of the employment opportunities his white peers enjoyed. St. Francis Hospital didn’t allow Black patients at all. Greenville Memorial Hospital had a small open ward where all Black patients — regardless of the reason they were there — were cared for, and the only toilet was in the middle of the room with only a curtain for privacy. Neither hospital employed Black physicians.

McClaren drew patients from around the Upstate because of his reputation for being the best and for being a man with a strong civic duty, said Yvonne Reeder, former president of Greenville Dreams.

“There would be quality medical care for Greenville (in the African American community),” she said.

Building a clinic with his own funds

McClaren started his career at a large, two-story home converted to a hospital by the Workingman’s Benevolent Association. In the late 1940s, however, the wooden building was considered dilapidated after operating for nearly a decade and was deemed a fire hazard because of its condemned state.

McClaren used $15,000 of his own money to open McClaren Medical Shelter in 1949, where his reputation for kindness and bedside manner drew patients from as far away as Laurens and Anderson. He built the two-story, 3,000-square-foot clinic at 110 Wardlaw St. next to his home.

“He was a pioneer — an earth-moving individual,” said Pamela Adams, leader with the Neighborhood & Historic Preservation Advocates. “He knew he had to stay in the Greenville area to provide quality care for the African American community.”

The building was constructed to be a state-of-the-art facility at the time, Reeder said. The facility had nine private rooms that had the newest equipment, aside from an X-ray machine. He treated all manner of maladies, delivered babies and had an operating room for major procedures.

Meanwhile, he hired the best nurses from the best schools and had 12 white doctors available to help. He made house calls for the elderly when they couldn’t get out. Grandson Edward Jones recalled how McClaren would get a phone call in the middle of the night for an emergency and would be gone the whole night.

“The standard is doing what you have to for the people that you care about,” Jones said. “Even if you don’t know them, you still care about them.”

By the early 1950s, Greenville General Hospital was expanding its care and finally integrated. McClaren was able to serve patients there as well. He decided he didn’t need to keep his private hospital.

Still, he kept his building on 110 Wardlaw St. open for his office.

Remembering Dr. McClaren

Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock-Flemming remembers the smells of walking into his clinic as a child in the 1960s. She remembers the calming demeanor even when it was time for inoculations.

“I remembered he was very, very kind,” she said, adding that he would always ask how she was doing in school. “He made you feel comfortable.”

In 1980, McClaren received the prestigious Emeritus Award from the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity for his work in the Greenville community. At the time, it had only been presented to about 30 physicians.

After McClaren retired, the building held everything from an architectural firm whose owner lived there, to a hair salon and spa, to an art gallery. It also sat empty for several years, Adams said. In 2019, the building was set to be razed from its original size to a small 30-foot-by- 30-foot shell of what it was. Community leaders mobilized to preserve the building and preserve McClaren’s memory.

“We expressed we weren’t happy seeing a building with this history so radically dissolved,” Adams said.

Mobilizing to preserve history

The medical shelter was eventually moved 70 feet to the corner of Wardlaw and Academy streets, standing just outside a new luxury apartment complex at Rhett and Wardlaw streets, which itself is named after McClaren. The McClaren will offer affordable housing as part of its mission. Still, Adams said it was through hard work from the community that future generations will be able to see the clinic McClaren built.

“Things don’t just happen,” Adams said. “It’s the voice of the people coming together.”

At its June 13 meeting, city council approved a resolution granting the assignment of the ground lease agreement for the city-owned parcel of land where the shelter sits from developer Lighthouse Greenville to the Urban League of the Upstate. The Urban League plans to turn the building into the McClaren Institute for Health and Quality of Life, a wellness center for the community, complete with a dedication to McClaren and the shelter through which he served the Black community for decades.

For generations of Black residents in the Upstate, Dr. Edward E. McClaren was renowned as a tireless man with a generous heart, willing to build a bridge over Jim Crow-era segregation to ensure patients had access to quality health care they were denied elsewhere.

Denied care elsewhere

The Abbeville native and graduate of Shaw University and the Medical School of Howard University was denied many of the employment opportunities his white peers enjoyed. St. Francis Hospital didn’t allow Black patients at all. Greenville Memorial Hospital had a small open ward where all Black patients — regardless of the reason they were there — were cared for, and the only toilet was in the middle of the room with only a curtain for privacy. Neither hospital employed Black physicians.

McClaren drew patients from around the Upstate because of his reputation for being the best and for being a man with a strong civic duty, said Yvonne Reeder, former president of Greenville Dreams.

“There would be quality medical care for Greenville (in the African American community),” she said.

Building a clinic with his own funds

McClaren started his career at a large, two-story home converted to a hospital by the Workingman’s Benevolent Association. In the late 1940s, however, the wooden building was considered dilapidated after operating for nearly a decade and was deemed a fire hazard because of its condemned state.

McClaren used $15,000 of his own money to open McClaren Medical Shelter in 1949, where his reputation for kindness and bedside manner drew patients from as far away as Laurens and Anderson. He built the two-story, 3,000-square-foot clinic at 110 Wardlaw St. next to his home.

“He was a pioneer — an earth-moving individual,” said Pamela Adams, leader with the Neighborhood & Historic Preservation Advocates. “He knew he had to stay in the Greenville area to provide quality care for the African American community.”

The building was constructed to be a state-of-the-art facility at the time, Reeder said. The facility had nine private rooms that had the newest equipment, aside from an X-ray machine. He treated all manner of maladies, delivered babies and had an operating room for major procedures.

Meanwhile, he hired the best nurses from the best schools and had 12 white doctors available to help. He made house calls for the elderly when they couldn’t get out. Grandson Edward Jones recalled how McClaren would get a phone call in the middle of the night for an emergency and would be gone the whole night.

“The standard is doing what you have to for the people that you care about,” Jones said. “Even if you don’t know them, you still care about them.”

By the early 1950s, Greenville General Hospital was expanding its care and finally integrated. McClaren was able to serve patients there as well. He decided he didn’t need to keep his private hospital.

Still, he kept his building on 110 Wardlaw St. open for his office.

Remembering Dr. McClaren

Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock-Flemming remembers the smells of walking into his clinic as a child in the 1960s. She remembers the calming demeanor even when it was time for inoculations.

“I remembered he was very, very kind,” she said, adding that he would always ask how she was doing in school. “He made you feel comfortable.”

In 1980, McClaren received the prestigious Emeritus Award from the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity for his work in the Greenville community. At the time, it had only been presented to about 30 physicians.

After McClaren retired, the building held everything from an architectural firm whose owner lived there, to a hair salon and spa, to an art gallery. It also sat empty for several years, Adams said. In 2019, the building was set to be razed from its original size to a small 30-foot-by- 30-foot shell of what it was. Community leaders mobilized to preserve the building and preserve McClaren’s memory.

“We expressed we weren’t happy seeing a building with this history so radically dissolved,” Adams said.

Mobilizing to preserve history

The medical shelter was eventually moved 70 feet to the corner of Wardlaw and Academy streets, standing just outside a new luxury apartment complex at Rhett and Wardlaw streets, which itself is named after McClaren. The McClaren will offer affordable housing as part of its mission. Still, Adams said it was through hard work from the community that future generations will be able to see the clinic McClaren built.

“Things don’t just happen,” Adams said. “It’s the voice of the people coming together.”

At its June 13 meeting, city council approved a resolution granting the assignment of the ground lease agreement for the city-owned parcel of land where the shelter sits from developer Lighthouse Greenville to the Urban League of the Upstate. The Urban League plans to turn the building into the McClaren Institute for Health and Quality of Life, a wellness center for the community, complete with a dedication to McClaren and the shelter through which he served the Black community for decades.

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