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Affirmative Action Takes Center Stage With Civil Rights Nursing Documentary

The recent ruling on affirmative action restrictions has come full circle for nursing education. A recently released documentary has been making its' rounds to museums, libraries and academic institutions bringing to life the untold story of three black nurses who broke barriers on inequities in nursing education. Producer, Denetra Hampton takes a deep dive into the 1963 civil rights case and introduces these extraordinary civil rights icons and their contributions to the fight for equitable education.

L to R: Registered nurses, T'Wanda Lowery, Melanie Outlaw and Angela Mitchell play the three icons in the documentary.

Unearthing The Story

It was an extraordinary day during the covid-19 pandemic, I was doing research for another project and ran across an article published in 1963 from the Daily Press, Norfolk, Va. that caught my attention. The article would become the basis for a documentary that would rock the profession of nursing and the entire Hampton Roads area. The shake up was mostly due to the fact that no one had heard of this story. However, I knew there was more to learn.

Making The Case

In 1963 three nurses, Mildred Smith, Agnes Stokes Chisman and Patricia Taylor Mckenzie sat down in an all white cafeteria at Dixie Hospital, Hampton Va, and the trajectory for every other black nurse, their practice and their education, would forever be changed. Eliminating disparities in nursing education has long been a fight for minorities. One of the most critical moments in our history was the civil rights movement of 1963. Although known for poignant issues surrounding the late Dr. Martin Luther King, the fight also hemorrhaged over to the halls of hospitals and segregated cafeterias, in particular, the old Dixie Hospital in Hampton Va. It was on August 8, 1963 that registered nurse, Mildred Smith decided to take a stand and two other nurses came to stand with her. The fight was just beginning.

Affirmative Action

At a time such as this, as affirmative action restrictions take on national dialogue, the documentary has been the gift that keeps on giving. As the profession of nursing highlights campaigns on racism, and diversity and inclusion, the landmark ruling will undoubtedly affect programs and policies already launched and strategies in lieu. The documentary offers of a deeper conversation about why nursing advocacy, science and research matters to eliminating disparities. It is monumental for the entire educational system, and has been critical to reaching the community concerning these critical conversations.

Making The Connection

The documentary was able to bring the descendants together at the Hampton History Museum in Hampton Va. to recognize the incredible courage of these nurses. Mildred Smith passed away at the age of 83 on May 1, 2013. Agnes Stokes Chisman and Patrica Taylor Mckenzie are still living.

Far Left: Agnes Stokes Chisman and Patricia Taylor Mckenzie receive their icon awards from the Mayor of Hampton, Va.

L to R: Melanie Outlaw, Denetra Hampton, T'Wanda Lowrey and Angela Mitchell


The excitement for the film is unparalleled. Being able to share this documentary and what it now represents is more confirmation to why I press onward with the work. And as history unravels what the recent supreme court rulings may bring, these three nurses will forever represent why it matters and who it matters for. We still have work to do and unfortunately, we are just beginning.

This documentary can be viewed with an event, academic institution or museum for a panel discussion. Please email for further info.

written by Denetra Hampton

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