I watched the first season of the HBO—Cinemax series The Knick, about a hospital in New York City around the turn of the century. Very interesting in many ways. Of particular interest is a Afro-American doctor, which was VERY unusual in a white hospital at that time. He uses the basement of the hospital to treat negro patients. He is on one of the best doctor in New York, but even with that he must put up with a great deal of discrimination—at first.
In a scene where a BM knifes an Irishman, the entire city declares death to all AAs. One BM who is just standing outside the hospital is beaten to death. The crowd doesn’t know there’s a black doctor at the hospital but they find out there is a clinic for AAs in the basement and they just about destroy the hospital trying to get in t kill them.
Here’s where is gets very interesting. One of the prejudiced white doctors who can’t hide his distain for the black doctor decides he has to help the black patients get to safety during the riots. He enlists the help of some of the staff. The horses have been stolen so they can’t use the ambulance, so they transport the black doctor and patients on gurneys with people hiding both on and underneath it. When they are stopped by the white mob, the nurse tells them they are transporting dead leprosy patients to the morgue. The mob lets them pass.
This reminds me of the pogroms in Europe with mass killings of Jews. There were gentile samaritans who hid the Jews three hundred years ago, just as Germans hid Jews during WWII. Keep in mind the white staff wasn’t particularly sympathetic to the African Americans. They just couldn’t let innocent people be murdered. It was an uplifting moment in a very harsh depiction of 19th century life.
Also, the black doctor has an affair with a white woman from the aristocracy who’s family is donating to the hospital. She gets pregnant and wants an abortion. He won’t perform the surgery, saying he can’t kill his own child. But another doctor does the abortion and the woman marries her fiancé.
If you can watch this series On Demand, I recommend that you do. It’s not a happy series but it asks questions that wouldn’t be asked on television even in the 80’s.