In early 1924, Wilson native Dr. Joseph H. Ward, a major in the Army Medical Corps and a pioneering physician in Indianapolis, was appointed first African-American chief surgeon and medical director of a Veterans Administration hospital. The appointment was poorly received by many in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the displacement of former personnel by a nearly all-Black staff was initially stiffly resisted.
Dr. Joseph H. Ward, circa World War I. Photo credit unknown.
In September 1926, Dr. Joseph H. Ward sent a note of thanks to Daily Times editor John D. Gold for a complimentary article the paper had published a few weeks before. The New York World had picked up and reprinted the piece, which had caught Dr. Ward’s attention.
Dr. Ward noted the “generosity and goodwill” of Wilson’s citizens and proclaimed that he was “proud to have been touched by the benign influence of the men who laid the foundation of the Wilson of today — the Messrs. Barnes, Woodards, Ruffins, Rountrees, Golds, Daniels, Conners, Davises, Vicks and Prices, and their illustrious compatriots.”
By populating his roll call with surnames only, Dr. Ward was able to place on an equal footing the African-American men who had positively impacted his youth — Samuel H. Vick and Joseph C. Price (and possibly, Rev. Fred M. Davis.) Notably, he did not name the family of his biological father, Dr. David G.W. Ward.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 September 1926.
I have not been able to find the August 19 article.
Many thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the clipping.
Dr. Frank S. Hargrave did not take a position at Tuskegee Veterans’ Hospital, but he left Wilson in 1924 nonetheless, migrating to Orange, New Jersey. Who got the job, then? Dr. Joseph H. Ward of Indianapolis, who was a Wilson native.
Indiana History Blog published Nicole Poletika’s detailed look at Dr. Joseph H. Ward‘s role in challenging segregation as the head of Tuskegee, Alabama’s Veterans Hospital No. 91 in the 1920s and ’30s.
Dr. Ward is on the front row, center (next to the nurse) in this 1933 photograph of Veterans Hospital staff. Photo courtesy of VA History Highlights, “First African American Hospital Director in VA History,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more on Dr. Ward, who was born in Wilson about 1869, see here and here and here and here and here.
[Sidenote: Dr. Ward was not born to “impoverished parents” per the article, though it is possible that he himself gave this gloss on his early life. Rather, his father was Napoleon Hagans, a prosperous freeborn farmer in nearby Wayne County, and his mother was Mittie Ward, a young freedwoman whose family moved into town after Emancipation from the plantation of Dr. David G.W. Ward near Stantonsburg.]
Hat tip to Zella Palmer for pointing me to this article. She is Dr. Ward’s great-granddaughter, and they are my cousins.
This weekend, with his granddaughter and great-grandchildren in attendance, the Indiana Historical Bureau, the American Legion, and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History will dedicate a historical marker commemorating the lifetime achievements of Wilson native Dr. Joseph H. Ward. Though I’ve blogged about him here and here and here and here, this seemed an appropriate time to feature yet another long newspaper article detailing Dr. Ward’s accomplishments.
“The appointment of Dr. [Joseph H.] Ward to this position marks a decided step forward for the race. In many respects this may be regarded as the highest office to which a Negro has ever been appointed, certainly the most responsible.”
More than 40 years after he left, the link between Dr. Joseph H. Ward and Wilson was well-enough known that the DailyTimes printed an article about his appointment as Chief Surgeon at Tuskegee’s veterans hospital.