A Celebration of Black History Month – a Humble Father

My father was raised on a small country farm town in Louisiana. Although his father was a successful farmer his mother saw a different opportunity for him, so she sent him to New Orleans, to live with his oldest sister. In New Orleans he attended grade school and graduated from the only high school at the time for black students.

My father was a WWII veteran. He also was among the first graduates from Xavier University in New Orleans with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy. At the time Xavier University was the only school available in the Southeast for black students to attend if they wanted to be pharmacists. He enrolled in the program and graduated in 1942. He was in the fifth graduating class, which consisted of 2 students. The first class consisted of one graduate. Upon his graduation he served his country by doing 3 ½ years in the United States Army. After his discharge from the Army he returned to New Orleans where he worked for another black owned pharmacy for one year. He started his own business in New Orleans in a predominately black neighborhood, near a hospital that offered its services to private pay black patients. He was too proud to accept help from his father, who had offered. His brother and brother-in law joined him as partners in setting up his business. Neither of them were pharmacists so he was the primary source of the business. The “drug store” also provided a delivery service – hiring young black men to deliver medicines and basic groceries by bike to the surrounding community.

His business was also a primary source of training and internship for students who attended Xavier University in New Orleans, La. This was because there were no other schools in the south for African American students to attend if they wanted to practice pharmacy. They had to do their internship with either my father or one of the other two black-owned pharmacies in the New Orleans community – both of them own and run by men who were also graduates of Xavier University in New Orleans. These pharmacies were the training grounds for the future pharmacists. Many of the black pharmacists who are now successful made their beginnings under his guidance and direction.

Throughout my father’s time as a cornerstone for inspiring black pharmacists he said he stressed the need for qualified black pharmacists in the black community as well as “the potential to grow in unison”. His philosophy to all collegians under his guidance and supervision was to “strive for excellence”. He also emphasized the importance of black awareness in the community and exactly what it would take to achieve recognition and self awareness.

The pharmacy (LaSalle Pharmacy) was located in a neighborhood across the street from a private hospital run by black doctors, and a doctor’s office run by the most well- known black physicians in the New Orleans community. At that time patients had two options. They could go to Charity Hospital, which was where I was born or go to the private pay hospital across from my dad’s drugstore. (As an aside I worked with Dr. Michael DeBakey later in my career and asked him about my dad’s pharmacy across from this hospital and his response was “I remember the place”).

The pharmacy also had a doctor’s office in the back of the pharmacy. This was where a number of doctors, some of them well know to the community, were able to establish their practices.

Because it was a self owned company, the expectation was that his family helped him by working there. My mother, who was a force of her own right, worked there every Monday through Friday between the hours of 10am and 2pm, while their six children were in school. I remember working on weekends and helping him count inventory that had been delivered by the pharmaceutical companies, also helping him count out pills to fill prescriptions — no automatic counters. He had a mortar and pestle for crushing meds and a scale for weighing them. He also had an old fashion adding machine, a typewriter on which the prescription directions were typed (no computer) and a register which we would consider in this modern age “old fashion”. There were no fancy electronics. My children even remember having the privilege of working behind the counter to help him.

He also trained me, my older sister and my eldest brother to work his soda counter — making sandwiches, malts, ice cream sodas and such. We were soda jerks!!! And I am very proud of being one.

My dad’s pharmacy was also located in a very popular black area near the New Orleans’ famous juke joints of the era that were frequented by Ray Charles, James Brown, and other famous artists.

My father was very active in the community, especially the religious charities. Because of his active involvement with these charities he was awarded a medal by the catholic archdiocese recognizing him as a “living saint”. He also worked in community programs that trained students to become medical assistants. He was known in the community as “Doc”.

He practiced pharmacy, working seven days a week, twelve hours a day. Even so, he found time to spend with his six children — taking us swimming at Lincoln Beach, which was the amusement park for blacks. I never learned to swim. But I enjoyed being with him.

As he aged and big businesses took control of the market, offering lower competitive pricing my dad decided he couldn’t compete with them and should close his business. At the age of 74 he closed his pharmacy. But being the type of person he was he went to work for another pharmacy friend for another year.

After he retired, when he and my mother would get their prescriptions filled they would joke with the employees. He never once mentioned or bragged about who he was or what he had accomplished during his life. He never criticized the company that had caused him to close his business.

It wasn’t until after his death that the woman who most often filled his prescriptions said that “I never knew until I read his obituary that he was a pharmacist”.

He was truly a humble man whose life should be celebrated during black history month.

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