Architect of hope

St. Jude founder Danny Thomas and Paul R. Williams

African-American architect Paul Williams with St. Jude founder Danny Thomas.

In the 1960s, segregation was a common practice in the South, but St. Jude founder Danny Thomas held firm in his conviction that all children, no matter their background or race, deserved a fighting chance. He asked Paul R. Williams for "groundbreaking" help.

Williams, a renowned African-American architect, proud Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. member and close friend of Thomas, designed the original star-shaped building that supported the entertainer’s dream that no child should die in the dawn of life. Williams was the first African-American member — and later a Fellow — of the American Institute of Architects. He conceived the design of five spokes radiating off a central core — a concept that Thomas likened to the star of St. Jude. Williams donated the design, which was brought to life when the original St. Jude building was constructed in 1962,

The original hospital was not just a haven of hope for its 126 patients but also the first fully integrated children's hospital in the South. It was also the beginning of research breakthroughs that came from the hospital’s labs and corridors at a time when children diagnosed with cancer faced a virtual death sentence.

For every child treated at St. Jude in 1962 and today, thousands more have been saved worldwide through St. Jude discoveries. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since it opened.

As St. Jude honors Black History Month, we have Williams to thank for laying the foundation to a successful and lifesaving hospital.