In 1951, during the height of segregation, LIFE magazine staff photographer W. Eugene Smith documented the heroic efforts of a black nurse midwife, Maude Callen, who served an impoverished community of 10,000 people in rural South Carolina. The story appeared in the December 3, 1951, issue of LIFE. The caption read: “SIMPLE KINDNESS overwhelms an old man,” who had been paralyzed for 20 years. The story made a plea for donations to build Maude a new clinic. Nearly $20,000 — an enormous sum for the time — poured in from around the globe. The Maude Callen Clinic opened its doors in May 1953. Smith wrote about Maude later: “In the most special way, she is probably the greatest person I have been privileged to know…. She is, to me, near the pure ideal of what a life of affirmative contribution can be…. If this sounds like a love letter, it is.”

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