Mrs. Ophelia Northcross was born on March
9, 1926 in Mobile, Alabama to Albert and Grace Burnett.
She attended Dunbar High School in Mobile and graduated
in 1943 after completing the 11th grade.
seventeen, Mrs. Northcross applied to Tuskegee Institute
and was accepted in the nursing program. In 1946, after
receiving her nursing diploma from Tuskegee, Mrs. Northcross
moved to Detroit because she learned through the nursing
journals that the city had the highest paying nursing
jobs in the state at the time. She applied to Children's
Hospital of Detroit, but was not hired because she was
African American. Instead, she began working with Dr.
Walter Mack at Burton Mercy Hospital by day and at Mercy
Whole Hospital-a Catholic-run cancer hospital-by night.
she reconnected with Dr. David Northcross, Jr., son
of Drs. David and Daisy Northcross, and the founders
of Mercy General Hospital. She had initially met him
while they were both at Tuskegee. While they were dating,
Mrs. Northcross soon became involved in the administration
of Mercy General Hospital. Upon marrying Dr. David Northcross,
Jr., she resigned from her position as operating room
nurse at Grace Hospital and then began to work at Mercy
General full-time, alternating between nursing and administrative
the early 1950's she pursued a degree in public health
nursing from Wayne State University, but was unable
to complete it because of the military duties of her
husband and ailing health of her mother-in-law. She
became responsible for the administration of Mercy General
hospital and was instrumental in the relocation of the
hospital from its location on Winder to Boston as the
result of the construction of Interstate I-75.
she left the hospital to pursue a career in occupational
health. She worked at General Motors and at 19 different
facilities for Chrysler before retiring in 1988.
her migration to Detroit and racial discrimination in
finding employment in health care
here to live at Childrens Hospital
[In] 1946, October.
And I was to go to Wayne State [University], live in
the nursing home, and work at Childrens [Hospital].
And when I arrived, the lady said to methe suitcase
and all are going to the nursing homeshe said, We
didnt notice that Tuskegee,they mumbled around in
the officewas a Black school; we dont hire Blacks
And so she just left it at that. My mom had given
me an address of my uncles girlfriend that had sent
me a graduation present. They used to do that years
ago when you couldnt go in [a hotel] and they would
say, Now, you call this person, because they would
either give you a room or show you where it was. So,
I walked. Id asked the cab driver, Where is this?,
on the way to Childrens [Hospital]. And he said, I
pass by there. Coming from Grand Central Railroad Station,
he came down Mack and said, Theres the house. Then
it wasnt that far to Childrens [Hospital]. I didnt
want to spend any more money, so I said, Oh, I could
walk that, and I walked and sat on the suitcase. When
I got to Mack Street there was a nun watering the [Mercy]
Hall Hospital [lawn], a cancer hospital, and I had said,
A nun watering! Because see, I came from a Catholic
town, [where the nuns] have a maid, and I said, Are
you a [nun]? Is this a hospital or a house, or what
is this, and why are you watering? And I talked to
her. I was sitting there resting. She said, Its a
cancer hospital, and I own it. So I said, Well, I
just left [the] Cancer Research [Center] in New York.
And she said, What are you? I said, Im a registered
nurse. I got my little things out and I had a temporary
permit, because you had to be 21 [years old], and I
showed it to her. I said, I was supposed to work over
there at Childrens, but they said they dont have colored
nurses. She says, Well, I hire colored nurses here.
I said, Im walking over here to see if I can get me
a place to stay at this house.[I was] right in front
of it. And she said, You could come back if you dont
get a place. I have a room here and you can work for
me. Shes a White nun
I said, Okay. So, I went over
and rang the bell and a lady came to the door, the caretaker.
my mother had written her a letter. She said, Velmas
expecting you today. She told me to keep you until she
comes home. She said, But, you dont look like you are
[a nurse]. You cant [be]. I said, Im not 16, Im 20
and Im a registered nurse. She said, Because shes
got a job for you. I went in. She cooked breakfast. Velma
was her name; she ran the elevator. She got off from [work
at] Hudsons. I said, Oh, I got me a job today if I dont
get one. She said, You dont want to work for that old,
mean sister over there. She said, I got you a job with
Dr. Mack in the hospital in the backBurton Mercy [Hospital].
It was called the hospital in the back. She lived there,
and then this hospital was here, and that was a little
complex up thereHutzel [Hospital], it was Womans, then
Grace [Hospital]. So, I said, Well, I dont know anybody
in this city, Ill just work both jobs. She took me to
Dr. Macks office, and he took me over to Burton Mercy
[Hospital] and they hired me. So, I said, Ill work days
over there, because [the nun] told me to come at 8 oclock
the next morning. And I worked nights, 11 [p.m.] to 7
[a.m.], and then I would come home and go across the street
and work 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.]. And while I was working
nights, the residents that I left at Cancer ResearchBlackwere
over there at Burton Mercy [Hospital].