Personality: Viola Baskerville

Spotlight on co-founder of Save Richmond Community Hospital Work Group

4/4/2024, 6 p.m.
In just over a month, Viola Baskerville has become front and center in an important aspect of Richmond’s Black history.

In just over a month, Viola Baskerville has become front and center in an important aspect of Richmond’s Black history.

A lawyer with years of experience in Virginia politics, Ms. Baskerville learned about the planned demolition of the Richmond Community Hospital on Virginia Union University’s campus after reading a February editorial in the Free Press.

Ms. Baskerville quickly responded by writing a letter to the editor that shared her concern. Farid Alan Schintzius, co-founder of The Camel, a live music venue in Richmond, soon contacted her about organizing community members to inform the public about the hospital’s history and planned demolition.

This was an idea Ms. Baskerville committed to quickly and fully, given the hospital’s importance in Richmond’s Black community.

“This building is an irreplaceable historical community asset,” Ms. Baskerville said. “Despite all the exclusion, inequity and racism of the times, the community pulled together and created an institution to provide professional, equitable healthcare with dignity for Black patients and a place for Black doctors to practice.”

Ms. Baskerville and Mr. Schintzius quickly founded the Save Richmond Community Hospital Work Group, an online discussion forum and resource for those who want to preserve the site and organize efforts to prevent its demolition.

In the weeks since the group was formed, it has accumulated more than 300 members on social media who share information on the hospital and its history and spotlight other efforts to preserve Black history in Virginia.

“With this initiative, I’m still working for the public good but in a volunteer position, rather than in an elected position,” Ms. Baskerville said. “The work still requires listening and responding to others and engaging them and leveraging their energies to get things done.”

Ms. Baskerville’s work so far has led to a large community gathering outside the hospital in early March, a private meeting with VUU President Hakim J. Lucas and a changing approach by the university when it comes to the hospital’s potential future.

A s s u c h , s e v e r a l organizations and politicians have suggested alternatives to the hospital’s demolition, an area that Ms. Baskerville is particularly focused on in efforts to save the Overbook Road building.

Ms. Baskerville is intent on seeing the Hospital independently assessed and adaptively reused in a way that allows its legacy to continue in a new form. Despite the groundswell of public interest, VUU has not yet fully committed to these steps, which she believes are necessary for the site’s preservation.

Despite VUU’s seeming reticence to save the hospital building, Ms. Baskerville is heartened by the community’s support to see it continue standing.

“The community rallying to preserve and honor a significant piece of history has been truly gratifying,” Ms. Baskerville says.

Meet a leader seeking to save a revered space and this week’s Personality, Viola Baskerville:

Volunteer position: Co-Organizer, Save Richmond Community Hospital Work Group.

Occupation: Public servant.

Date and place of birth: Oct. 29, Richmond.

Where I live now: Richmond.

Education: B.A., College of William & Mary; J.D., University of Iowa, College of Law.

Family: Spouse, Dr. Archer L. Baskerville; sons, Timothy R. Baskerville and Sean A. Baskerville.

Save Richmond Community Hospital building workgroup is: Organized to inform, engage and call people to action to prevent the proposed demolition of the 1932 Richmond Community Hospital building and support its rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.

Co-founder: Farid Alan Schintzius.

Why it is important to save the former Richmond Community Hospital building: This building is an irreplaceable historical community asset. Despite all the exclusion, inequity and racism of the times, the community pulled together and created an institution to provide professional, equitable healthcare with dignity for Black patients and a place for Black doctors to practice.

Brief history of the 1932 Richmond Community Hospital building: Dr. Sarah Garland Boyd Jones, the first woman to receive a medical license in Virginia, saw the need for a hospital for Black patients and doctors starting around 1902. Black patients were excluded from white hospitals, and Black doctors could not practice in white hospitals. After almost three decades of fundraising by the community, the building received its first patients on July 4, 1934. For the next half-century, the 25-bed hospital admitted and treated thousands of patients from the central Virginia area. In the 1980s, the hospital’s board conveyed the building to Virginia Union University, and a newer 110- bed facility opened in the East End. That facility is now Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital.

Location: 1209 Overbrook Road.

What is the controversy in a nutshell about the Overbrook building: Virginia Union University, which owns the building, plans to erect housing at the site. As part of its development plans, it has stated that the building will be demolished. It further states that it intends to memorialize the site with a historical marker. This is a complete disregard for the need to preserve and honor a significant piece of Richmond’s Black history.

No. 1 goal of Save Richmond Community Hospital Work Group: Our main goal is to have Virginia Union University and the developer, Steinbridge Group, save the building and incorporate it into its development through rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.

Biggest challenge: Getting Virginia Union University to support the community and take demolition off the table.

Biggest disappointment: As an HBCU and community asset, Virginia Union University has yet to respond proactively to Historic Richmond Foundation’s offer to assist in saving a building that represents the history of another Black institution and community asset.

Why the building and saving it is significant in Richmond’s Black community and beyond:

This building represents part of Black Richmond’s cultural identity and historical achievements. It is part of a series of historical milestones in the Black community from Emancipation to the rise of Black political power during Reconstruction, to Black entrepreneurship, to Black achievements despite Jim Crow and segregation.

How community members can lend assistance in our advocacy efforts to save the building: Be engaged and informed by joining our Facebook group Save Community Hospital. Write letters to the press, including the Richmond Times Dispatch. Write letters to Virginia Union University’s President and Board of Trustees. Write letters to the Steinbridge Group. Write letters to locally elected officials, including the Mayor. Spread the word. There is power in numbers.

How to connect with Save Richmond Community Hospital workgroup: By email: SaveRCH@gmail.com and on Facebook: Save Community Hospital.

Upcoming events: “Community Church on the Lawn”, April 7th from 1- 3:00 p.m. at 1209 Overbrook Road. Oral history and stories will be recorded. Yard signs will be available. Bring your lawn chairs.

How I start the day: Believing I will achieve something positive, no matter how small.

Words that best describe me: Focused, detail-oriented

Best late-night snack: Honey roasted peanuts.

My music playlist: While performing household chores, anything by the Temptations or the Four Tops. While performing serious mental work, Mozart.

I love to: Trace family histories research genealogy.

A quote that inspires me: “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Coco Chanel

The best thing my parent taught me: To respect others and treat everyone with dignity. Work hard. Do your best at whatever task is assigned to you.

The person who influenced me the most: My mother, Josephine Braxton Osborne.

Book that influenced me the most and how: “The Prophet” by Kahil Gibran.

Next goal: Seeing the university publicly commit to saving the building.