Dr. James L. Johnson’s service to the citizens of Cecil County is not well documented so I’ve added this post as a first attempt at publishing information about the respected healthcare professional. Please share your memories about the Doctor and I’ll work to gather more information about his service to the profession and the community.
When Dr. James L. Johnson started practicing medicine in Elkton in the middle of the Great Depression the county’s healthcare system was segregated, just like every other aspect of life in Cecil. Union Hospital had separate wards for African-Americans and the young physician didn’t have admitting privileges. If one of his patients required hospitalization, he arranged for admission through another doctor in the area. As integration made inroads in areas such as public accommodation and education, an entire generation of black doctors worked with others to bring an end to racially segregated health care across the nation. The system of separate wards here appears to be have been eliminated in the mid-1960s and prior to that time the doctor had been given admitting privileges at the hospital
The young-man from Baltimore, a 1928 graduate of Lincoln University, went to Nasvhille, TN to complete his medical training at Meharry Medical College, a school the Freedman’s Bureau established in 1876 as a college for African-American physicians. After returning to Baltimore to complete his internship at Provident Hospital, he opened his office on East High Street in Elkton in 1934.
For his many contributions to the community, the respected doctor was recognized as the citizen of the year by the Chamber of Commerce in 1971. He was particularly proud of his effort to get a modern school built at Booth Street for children in the African-American community during the separate but unequal period of the county’s past. Into the 1970s he maintained a busy medical practice, keeping his office open five days a while visiting patients at Union hospital seven days a week. His days often began before dawn and ended well after sunset. Jim Cheeseman, the Cecil Whig photographer said in 1971: “The one picture I’d really like to shoot is a silhouette of the good doctor rushing to Union Hospital in the early morning before dawn, like I’ve seen him do so many times.”
Dr. Johnson passed away on Feb 24, 1978, at the age of 73. He practiced medicine in Elkton for 43 years.