Doctor Made Lasting Mark On Local Black Community
By EMILY GUEVARA
Before the hospitals in Tyler were integrated, there was a doctor who provided significant service to the black community.
Dr. Theodore J. Taliaferro came to Tyler in 1939 after learning of a need for more physicians in the northern part of the city.
The young doctor recently had completed his residency in St. Louis and was living there with his wife, Geneva, a nurse, when they made the decision to move here.
That move would mean a great deal to the black community here, and left the Taliaferros with a significant place in local history.
Taliaferro was believed to be the first black physician to perform major surgery at Medical Center Hospital (now East Texas Medical Center) and the first black to engage in an interracial practice in Tyler, according to the book, "Remembering When We Were Colored in Tyler, Texas," compiled by Rodney Lamar Atkins.
Mrs. Taliaferro left her own mark as the first black nurse to work at Medical Center Hospital.
She worked in the hospital's African-American unit and eventually became head nurse, according to Atkins' account.
Born and raised in Allentown, Pa., Taliaferro attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
Shortly after completing his residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, he and his family moved to Tyler.
For several years he worked out of an office on North Border Avenue, but by 1947, he had opened the Taliaferro Clinic on West Erwin Street.
Dr. Samuel D. Houston, who was born and raised in Tyler, recalled what it was like at the clinic.
"He would have patients just be waiting all day long out the door to be seen at the time," said Houston, 76, who as a child was a patient of Taliaferro's and as an adult a short-term colleague. "He was very well known, very well thought of in the black community."
With the growth of his practice, Taliaferro moved his clinic/hospital to 1106 W. Trezevant St. where he could serve more clients, according to
Tyler Morning Telegraph
Frinchell Walton Mathis was one of those clients. Ms. Mathis said he delivered all five of her sons, the first one at the Erwin Street clinic and the last four at the Trezevant location.
"He was a real nice person and he was liked by everyone," she said adding that he spoke with an accent at least as far as East Texans were concerned.
She said because he was younger than the other doctors in the area at the time, he brought new ideas and new ways of doing things.
"The residents in Tyler were just wild about him, because he cared and did a lot of things for other people," Ms. Mathis said.
Dr. Ben Bridges, a retired Tyler physician, has researched local medical history for the Smith County Medical Society.
Bridges said the opening of Taliaferro's hospital provided a "legitimate spot for the black community to go to if they couldn't get in to the hospital."
He said it was significant not only for what it meant to the community, but also for what it said about Taliaferro.
"When you think about it, it is hard enough to practice medicine, but also to own and operate a hospital," Bridges said by phone.
The 10- to 12-bed hospital with operating room likely staffed at least three full-time nurses and two full-time orderlies, Bridges said, who at times did consultations for Taliaferro. It also had X-ray machines.
Taliaferro's career also coincided with changes in the local medical community.
For a good part of the 1940s, 12 beds at Mother Frances Hospital serviced the needs of the black residents in the Tyler area. That was what was devoted to African-American men and women in a segregated wing on the ground floor.
In 1947, the Camp Fannin "Station Hospital" became the East Texas Tuberculosis Sanitarium.
And, in 1951, Medical Center Hospital, now East Texas Medical Center, opened. Its first floor housed the area for black patients.
Although black patients could go to the hospital and be treated, black doctors could not practice there until 1951.
That year, the Texas Medical Association wanted to integrate the profession, so they urged the county medical societies to allow African-American doctors to become members, Bridges said.
At the time only doctors who were members of the Smith County Medical Society could practice at the Tyler hospitals, Bridges said.
So opening up medical society membership to African-Americans, also opened up the hospitals.
Several black doctors were admitted to the society in that first year Taliaferro being one of them, Bridges said.
He is believed to be the first black doctor to perform surgery at Medical Center Hospital, according to Atkins' book. Although Taliaferro was allowed to work there, as a general practitioner or family doctor, he was not allowed to perform a major surgery at either hospital without a certified surgeon in the room, Bridges said.
Taliaferro often worked with Dr. Porter Bailes during surgeries, according to Atkins' book. It was Houston, Taliaferro's former patient, who was the first board certified black surgeon in Tyler.
Apart from his family practice, Taliaferro recognized the long-term needs of his community and, along with a partner, started Mel-Rose Nursing Home in Tyler. He was part owner and resident physician there.
He also served as the Texas College physician, provided free service to the Pre-Natal Clinic for the city of Tyler and was a member of the Smith County Medical Association, National Medical Association and the American Medical Association.
Today Taliaferro's memory lives on in those who knew him as well as Melrose Care and Rehab, which began as Mel-Rose Nursing Home.
"He was broad as far as his outlook on the future ..." Bridges said. "He was a visionary, as well as ... a good doctor."