Physicians are often called "healers of the body." Ministers are seen as "healers of the soul." Psychiatrists are known as "healers of the mind." This is the story of the early black physicians of Dublin and Laurens County and their roles not only as "healers of the body," but as "healers of the community" during the turbulent times of the first five decades of the 20th Century in the rural South.
It wasn't until 1876 when the Freedman's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church established the Medical Department of Central Tennessee College in Nashville, Tennessee that black males in the South were given the opportunity to obtain a medical education. The medical school, named Meharry Medical College in honor of its founder Samuel Meharry, became part of Walden University in 1900 and became self sustaining in 1915.
Laurens County's first known black physician was Dr. C.P. Johnson. Though little is known of his practice in Dublin in the mid 1890s, Dr. Johnson was known to have been educated by Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. Dr. Johnson left Dublin in 1895 and moved his practice to Cordele.
The first native black Laurens Countian to practice medicine was Dr. Benjamin Judson Simmons. Dr. Simmons was born in Laurens County on October 16, 1870. His family moved to Macon, where the young man dedicated his youth to obtaining the best education available. Simmons attended the Ballard School in Macon and the Georgia State Industrial School in Savannah before returning home to teach in the county school system. Simmons dreamed of becoming a physician. With little or no money in hand Ben Simmons set out on foot for Nashville, Tennessee and Meharry Medical College. When he walked out of Meharry in 1897 with his medical diploma in hand, Simmons was the school's most outstanding student in his studies of human anatomy.
One day when he walking back and forth from home to Meharry, Ben Simmons met and later married Clementine Slater of Baldwin County. Dr. Simmons passed his state licensing exam and immediately set up his practice in the old capital city of Georgia. The first black physician in Milledgeville, he was recognized by his white colleagues as a doctor with outstanding diagnostic skills. Dr. Simmons successful career came to an untimely end on January 7, 1910, when he accidentally shot himself. Though he had accumulated quite a fortune, his white friends pledged to pay for a handsome monument over his grave in the mostly white ancient Milledgeville burial ground.
Henry Thomas Jones, Sr. was born on Oct. 3, 1875 in Hepzibah, Ga. Like many of his local colleagues, Jones attended Georgia State College in Savannah. Dr. Jones graduated on Feb. 21, 1900 from Meharry Medical College, where he was the first of his class to graduate under the four year program at Meharry. Jones began his practice in Dublin on Sept. 23, 1901 and continued here until his death on July 29, 1945. Henry Jones married Theodosia Hinton of Warrenton, Ga. By faith he was a Baptist and served as a Sunday School Teacher and a deacon of First A.B. Church, Dublin, Ga. Civically, Dr. Jones was a Knight of Pythias and a 33rd degree Mason.
Perhaps of all of the African-American physicians of the early 20th Century, the most well known and admired was Benjamin Daniel "B.D." Perry. Dr. Perry was born on April 12, 1876 in Laurens County. He graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. on February 26, 1902. He began his practice in Brewton, Ga. on May 10, 1902 near his ancestral home on the Wrightsville Highway. In his early adult hood, Perry, like many physicians of his time, taught school during the day. Dr. Perry practiced in Dublin for over 40 years and was a member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. He married Eliza J. O'Neal and died on Oct. 8, 1957. In the 1950s, Dr. Perry was honored by Laurens County with the naming of B.D. Perry High School, which is located across the highway from his family home. Dr. B.D. Perry was buried in Perry Cemetery on Highway 319 opposite East Laurens Middle School.
The fourth of a group of early black physicians was Dr. J.W.E. Linder. Dr. Linder graduated from Meharry in 1908 and began his practice here seven weeks later on May 23, 1908. Very little is known of Dr. Linder and he may have moved on to another city to practice his profession.
Dr. Ulysses Simpson Johnson was born on July 18, 1882 in the Jones County town of Clinton. A son of Henry Johnson and his bride Elizabeth Bland, Johnson attended local schools before matriculating at Georgia State College from 1895 to 1897 while he was in early teens. At the age of 17, Ulysses graduated from Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. During the time he was attending school, Johnson taught school during his free time.
Dr. Johnson graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1908 and set out to practice medicine in Dublin in 1918. A convert to Christianity from the age of fourteen, Dr. Johnson believed that he was given the call to heal the souls of his community's citizens. On March 17, 1922, Dr. Johnson also became known as Rev. Johnson when he was licensed to preach at St. Paul's AME Church in Dublin. Nineteen months later, he was ordained a Deacon in the church and in 1925 was designated as an elder. He pastored churches at Cadwell, Dexter, Wrightsville, the Strawberry Circuit, Smithville and Eastman before his appointment as Presiding Elder of the Hawkinsville District in 1937. From 1938 to 1940, Rev. Johnson served as the Presiding Elder of the Dublin District, before returning to Hawkinsville to service. During his long career, Rev. Johnson attended dozens of annual conferences.
In 1924, Dr. Johnson, who lived on South Jefferson Street and practiced in his office across the street, began publishing "The Record." the city's first newspaper exclusively for black citizens. Dr. Johnson served as a Trustee of Morris Brown College for more than thirty years. He served as President of the State Medical Association of Black Doctors and was Vice Chair of the National Medical Association. He was active in many local civic organizations, including the Masons, Knights of Pythias and Woodmen of the World. His first wife, Josephine Hutchings, died early in his life. His second wife was Miss Cleo P. McCall.
Ulysses Simpson Johnson was named after one of the 19th Century's most popular Republican presidents, U.S. Grant. Fittingly it seemed only popular that nearly one hundred years after the end of the Civil War, Dr. Johnson served as one of the old line black delegates to the Republican National Convention in 1960. He died on March 17, 1962. Dr. U.S. Johnson was the last of the old school black physicians, who dedicated their lives to serving their community in every possible way.